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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Data, expenditure and the quality of Higher Education

September 12th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

oecd student spendingIn this brave new data world, we seem to get daily reports on the latest statistics about education. It si not easy making sense of it all.

Times Higher Education reports on OECD’s latest Education at a Glance report, an annual snapshot of the state of education across the developed world, published on 12 September.

It shows spending per higher education student significantly falling behind the OECD average in a number of European countries such as Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Portugal, while even countries with reputations for strong university systems, such as Germany and Finland, are failing to keep pace with the US and UK.

But what does all this mean? Germany has significantly increased University places as a response to the crisis, seemingly without spending per student keeping pace. The UK has increased spedning er student. The different of course is that while higher education is basically free in Germany, the UK has some of the highest university tuition fees in the world. Andreas Schleicher from OECD said that since there were no comparable data on learning outcomes for different countries, it was difficult to pinpoint whether the large per-student spends in some nations were actually improving quality.

However, according to the THE report, he added that results from the OECD’s international school testing programme – the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) – showed “that there is essentially no relationship between spending per student and school performance once you get beyond a certain threshold in spending”, a point that most OECD countries had already passed.

Of course school performance does not necessarity equate with quality of teaching and learning. But it does suggest that even with the deluge of data we still do not understand how to judge quality – still ess hwo to improve it.

What comes after “Learning Layers”? – Part Three: Getting deeper with vocational learning, ‘health and safety’ and digital media

April 3rd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous blogs I referred to the fact that our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had come to an end and that we (the ITB team involved in the construction sector pilot) are working with follow-up activities. I then described briefly, how I came to start a joint initiative on digital media in the area of ‘health and safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) with trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC. In my previous post I sketched the initiative roughly. Now – after our second meeting – I can give more information and I need to reflect on lessons  learned already at this stage.

Looking back – the achievements with the Learning Layers project

Firstly I need to remind myself how this initiative drew upon the achievements of the LL project. During the project some of the trainers had created WordPress blogs to present their training contents (Project instructions, support material and worksheets) to apprentices in their trades. Then, we had piloted the integrative toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB) that had been developed during the project to support learning in the context of work. The trainers had found their ways to create stacks and tiles to support the apprentices’ projects (based on working & learning tasks). However, the transversal learning area ‘health and safety’ had not yet been covered during the project. And – moreover – from the perspective of promoting the use of LTB and digital media in construction sector, this area is important both for training centres and for construction companies. So, we started working together to conquer this terrain.

Mapping learning materials for ‘health safety’ – filling the gaps and reflecting on pedagogy

I had initially thought that we could proceed rather quickly by mapping the existing material that is being used and by analysing some options for learning software – then to start working with appropriate learning designs. But it struck me that I  had not thought of a necessary interim step – pedagogic reflection on the applicability of existing materials for the learning processes of apprentices and skilled workers. When discussing the potentially applicable learning materials the trainers informed me of several gaps to be overcome. Firstly, a lot of the reference materials are lengthy documents with detailed references to norms, standards and regulations. These, obviously, are not very easily usable in action-oriented learning (supported by digital media. Secondly, several checklists and work sheets for risk analysis (Gefährdungsbeurteilung) are designed for real work situations (involving skilled workers). However, for apprentices who are learning and working in the training centre the trainers need to develop adjusted versions. So, therefore, our initiative needed space and time – and digital tools – for such pedagogigic reflection. Furthermore, the trainers saw a possibility to shape an integrative approach that proceeds from general starting points through the main areas of construction know-how (Tiefbau, Hochbau, Ausbau) and special areas (Brunnenbau, Maschinen- und Metalltechnik) to specific trades (carpentry, bricklaying etc.) and to specific work processes (welding, sawing etc.). So, instead of taking this as an easy ‘packaging content to digital media’ exercise, we are in deep discussion on vocational learning and on appropriate ways to introduce digital media and know-how on ‘health and safety’ into working and learning processes.

– – –

I think this is enough for the moment. I have learned a lot and the trainers are pleased to work in this direction. And as far as I am concerned, this kind of process confirms once again the fundamental principles that we applied in the LL project – orientation to ‘work process knowledge’ and to ‘action-oriented learning’. Now I will have a holiday break but I am looking forward to continuing my work with the Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

Learning Analytics and the Peak of Inflated Expectations

January 15th, 2017 by Graham Attwell

hypecycleHas Learning Analytics dropped of the peak of inflated expectations in Gartner’s hype cycle?  According to Educause ‘Understanding the power of data’ is still there as a major trend in higher education and Ed Tech reports a KPMG survey which found that 41 percent of universities were using data for forecasting and predictive analytics.

But whilst many universities are exploring how data can be used to improve retention and prevent drop outs, there seems little pretence any more that Learning Analytics has much to do with learning. The power of data has somehow got muddled up with Management Analytics, Performance Analytics and all kinds of other analytics – but the learning seems to have been lost. Data mining is great but it needs a perspective on just what we are trying to find out.

I don’t think Learning analytics will go into the trough of despair. But i think that there are very real problems in working out how best we can use data – and particularly how we can use  data to support learning. Learning analytics need to be more solidly grounded in what is already known about teaching and learning. Stakeholders, including teachers, learners and the wider community, need to be involved in the development and implementation of learning analytics tools. Overall, more evidence is needed to show which approaches work in practice and which do not.

Finally, we already know a great deal about formal learning in institutions, or at least by now we should do. Of course we need to work at making it better. But we know far less about informal learning and learning which takes place in everyday living and working environments. And that is where I ultimately see Learning analytics making a big difference. Learning Analytics could potentially help us all to self directed learners and to achieve the learning goals that we set ourselves. But that is a long way off. Perhaps if Learning analytics is falling off the peak of expectations that will provide the space for longer term more clearly focused research and development.

 

My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – Part Two: From MV Schwarze Pumpe to European projects 1995 – 1999

December 9th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started to write a serious of blogs with the heading “My journey with Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB)”. These blogs are intended to support the work (or follow-up) of the ITB “Klausurtagung” that will take place on Friday 9. December 2016.  The inspiration to write personal blogs that deal with the history of ITB comes from the Klausurtagung 2015, when we had a presentation by Klaus Ruth on some highlights of the history of ITB. With this series I try to compensate my absence due to health issues and to pass a message, wah has happened at different times and with different themes. In the first post I tried to cover my first encounters –  my study visit in 1989 and participation in the Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung 1990 conference. In this second post I will give insights into the Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe – the pilot project with which ITB worked in European cooperation projects 1995 – 1999.

‘Gleichwertigkeit’ and ‘Doppelqualifikation’ as emerging themes

As I indicated already in my previous post, at the end of 1980s and in the beginning of 1990s Finland was preparing structural reforms in the educational system. The mergers and upgradings in higher vocational education – the creation of the Finnish Fachhochschulen was less controversial and was implemented quickly. However, the corollary issue – how to keep a balance between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ learning pathways in the upper secondary eduvcation, was more problematic. Traditionally Finland had followed in its educational policies the Swedish reforms that emphasised comprehensivisation and unification of educational institutions and getting rid of separate ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ tracks. However, in the above mentioned debates the Finns were distancing themselves from what they felt ‘academisation’ of vocational learning and were looking for alternative models. From this perspective, alternative models of curricular cooperation between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ learning were explores – as means to improve the attractiveness of vocational education- were discussed. And during these debated Gerald Heidegger from ITB was invited as visiting expert to contribute to such debates. Later on, when the Finnish upper secondary experiments (with curricular cooperation between Gymnasium and Vocational schools) was launched, Günter Kutscha from the University of Duisburg was invited to the international evaluation team (with his expertise on the Kollegschule implementation).

‘Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe’ takes off

In the light of the above it is worthwhile to note that the German educational policies in the 1990s were looking for new ways to enhance vocational learning and vocational progression routes. To a major extent this was motivated by efforts to re-integrate some of the educational models of DDR into the sytemic frameworks of BRD. From this perspective the ‘new’ Federal states launched several pilot projects (Modellversuche) to incorporate curricula with dually valid qualifications (Doppelqualifikationen). Whilst these ‘pilots’ were mainly based on existing established (and mostly successful) practice of the late DDR, there was a need to accommodate such programs under the dual system of vocational education and training (VET) and to clarify the progression models. In this context the pilots were setting new accents.

In this context the ‘Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe’ played a special role. Firstly, this was due to the industrial partner and the technologies involved- the energy plant LauBAG was relying on the regional brown coal resources. and related energy production. From the ecological point of view this couldn’t be characterised as sustainable, neither was the company at that time profitable. However, it was the major energy provider for a wide region and a major employer in the regional labour market. Yet, in the light of the inevitable exit from brown coal, the company had to find a balance between measures to keep skilled workforce for current production and preparing them for alternative occupational prospects after the brown coal era. Secondly, the educational concept of the pilot project was to introduce vocational curricula that provided dually valid qualification (craftsman certicate and access to higher education – Berufsqualifikation mit Fachhochschulreife) in integrated learning arrangements.  Thirdly, as a special accent of ITB (as responsible for accompanying research) and due to the aptitude of local teachers and trainers, there was a special possibilty to develop integrative working and learning arrangements in which social shaping and self-organised project work played a major role. (I personally could experience this last mentioned aspect in the conferences hosted by MV Schwarze Pumpe in 1995 and in 1997 8n which the apprentices (Azubis) demonstrated their projects). So, in 1994 the combined Modellversuch started with Gerald Heidegger in charge of the accompanying research team in which Rainer Bremer was responsible for accompanying the school pilot and Hans-Dieter Höpfner on the pilot in the in-company training.

Project Post-16 strategies and follow-up

In the light of the above it is understandable that the ITB approach in emphasising the Gestaltung (social shaping) idea and enhancement of vocational learning attracted European attention – in particular, when the MV Schwarze Pumpe provided a pilot ground to be studied. This possibility was picked by the Finnish-led project initiative “Finding new Strategies for Post-16 Edutacation (Acronym: Post-16 strategies). This initiative was inspired by the Finnish upper secondary pilot and its international review and the preparation of the project supported by the Finnish educational authorities. The project was approved as one with the strongest resources in the Leonardo da Vinci programme, strand ‘surveys and analyses’.

The project, coordinated by Johanna Lasonen (University of Jyväskylä)  focused on the policy issue, how to promote parity of esteem between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ learning (Gleichwertigkeit allgemeiner und beruflicher Bildung). At an early phase the project identified four kinds of strategies:

  • Unification (Unified frameworks for  upper secondary education – in the project covered by Scotland and  Sweden)
  • Mutual enrichment (Curricular cooperation between general and vocational education – covered  by Finland and Norway)
  • Linkages (Introducation of parallel ‘Bacalaureat’ diplomas for bringing general and vocational education to same level –  covered by France and England (at the level of initiative))
  • Vocational enhancement (Upgrading of vocational curricula via internal development and enrichment – in the project covered by Germany and Austria. German contribution was provided by ITB on the basis of MV Schwarze Pumpe.).

Having identified these main types the project avoided the trap to enter a ‘system competition’ between them – to ‘mainstream the winner’. Instead the project worked in small groups to learn more of the boundary conditions, pattern variances and relative strenghts/weaknesses of the types. Furthermore, the project promoted dialogue between the groups in order to find points for learning from each other. Finally, the project organised short mutual study visits of practitioners between differently positioned countries. Altogether, the project created an interesting European group picture.

Unfortunately the immediate follow-up project Spes-Net didn’t have similar resources to keep the initial partners involved when new partners were brought in to carry out similar analyses and to position themselves vis-à-vis the above mentioned  strategy types. Nevertheless, some level of dialogue could be maintained and some movements in the strategies observed.

Project Intequal and follow-up

In addition to the above mentioned project Post-16 strategies, ITB and MV Schwarze Pumpe were involved also in another European project funded by the programme Leonardo da Vinci, surveys and analyses. The project ‘Integrated qualifications’ (Acronym: Intequal) was initiated by the German comparative VET researcher Sabine Manning (Research Forum WiFo). She had already in the early 1990s studied the newer German pilot projects on ‘Doppelqualifikation’ from the perspective of international comparisons. At the European level she had worked in a pioneering European project on ‘Modularisation’ in the field of VET. In this respect her project focused on the meso- and micro-systemic implementation of vocational curricula or schemes providing dually oriented qualifications.

The countries and the schemes involved were the following ones:

  • Germany – ITB and MV Schwarze Pumpe as well as ISB München and a similar pilot project from Bayern,
  • Sweden – HLS (latterly Stockholm University) and the integrated upper secondary education,
  • Norway – SYH (latterly HIAK, latterly HIOA) and the integrated aupperr secondary/transition to apprenticeship,
  • the Netherlands – SCO-KohnstammInstituut and the MBO (middenbare beroepsonderwijs) scheme,
  • England – University of Warwick and the GNVQ (general national vocational qualification) scheme,
  • France – CEREQ and the schemes of Baccalaureat professionelle,
  • Austria  – IBW and the WiFi Academies schemes in vocational adult education (supported by chambers of commerce).

The Intequal project avoided debates at the systemic level and focused on the level of curriculum implementation, learning arrangements, assessment and learning careers. In this way the project gathered insights into the shaping of the curricula and on the feedback data that informed on the acceptance of the schemes. At the end of the initial project itsv work was continued by a multiplier-effect project ‘Duoqual’, but – in a similar way as with ‘Spes-Net’, the funding could only support the work of new partner countries but not effectively the dialogue with initial partners. Nevertheless, the mapping of curricula and schemes (promoting dually oriented qualifications) could be continued across Europe.

– – –

I think this is enough of the MV Schwarze Pumpe and of the European projects in which it was involved as the German case. Here, it is worthwhile to mention that I was involved in these activities with a new role. From 1994 on I worked as a project manager at Cedefop (European Centre for Development of Vocational Training) and was accompanying European projects – and promoting cooperation, synergy and mutual exchanges across them. The two above mentioned projects developed most intensive cooperation and were strongly present in European events (e.g. ECER conferences and EU-presidency conferences of that time. Such networking and promotion of research cooperation was also practiced with other themes and projects.

More blogs to come …

‘Methods’ or process innovations in Learning Layers research – Part Two: Reflections on training innovations

November 15th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog I started yet another series of posts on our contributions to the final deliverable of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. I might be repeating myself but it is worth reflecting, what kind of learning experience we have made with our partners in the Learning Layers Construction pilot. At the end of the journey  we are able to highlight what all has contributed to the innovation processes we have been working with. In my previous post I discussed this with focus on the role of accompanying research in a process of multi-channeled research & development (R&D) dialogue. In this post I focus on the role of training interventions in our project experience.

Here I have been working with a similar question (as in my previous blog), how to present our training interventions as a contribution to the innovation process (that we have gone through together with our application partners):

  • Can we claim that our training interventions have been based on a pre-designed ‘training method’ that guided the shared learning into good results? Can we present this ‘training method’ as the legacy of our project?
  • Or – shall we interpret our training and learning experiences as a more complex process innovation in which we played a part – an active part, but yet only a part of the common story? Shall we present the training interventions as a thread in the story of the R&D dialogue – and as part of the same legacy?

This time I present the answers that we can give by using extracts from our document “Training interventions as capacity-building for digital transformation – Construction pilot”. And here again, I hope that the extracts from the longer report text give a clear idea, what our answer is and why.

Starting point of our training interventions: Need for shared learning to bring co-design work forward

“This document provides insights into the role of training interventions as support for co-design processes and related research & development (R&D) dialogue in the construction pilot. The following developments are highlighted:

  • The training interventions were introduced as a process innovation alongside and within the co-design (not as a finalised ‘method’ to be implemented).
  • The early Multimedia training activities were introduced as a separate initiative, but gradually they became an important support for refocusing the co-design process.
  • The Theme Room training campaign became a ‘whole organisation initiative’ and paved the way to use the Learning Toolbox (LTB) in the apprentice training projects of Bau-ABC in different trades.
  • The Theme Room concept was proposed for a longer training campaign with more features. The documentation of the concept and use of materials (in Moodle) makes it possible to customise the approach (including the use of the LTB as a specific theme for training and tool for learning).

In the light of the above the training interventions were introduced firstly as ad hoc measures to support the co-design process. Firstly, they were planned as awareness-raising events with practical tasks to consolidate learning gains. Then, after a short interim period the Bau-ABC trainers prepared a new initiative  that aimed to raise the user-competences of the entire training staff to a new level. Looking back, this process can be reconstructed as two phases of training interventions with an interim phase, during which the initiative shifted from the research and technology partners to the application partners.”

Reflections on training interventions: Process innovations alongside co-design and involving all parties

Looking back, it is apparent that the training interventions were not launched on the basis of ready-made method taken from a textbook. Instead, they were introduced as a process innovation that responded to certain challenges in the co-design work. The dynamics of the process innovation can be summarised in the following way:

Firstly, the Multimedia training activities were introduced as a separate initiative – rather loosely linked to the co-design process. Then, thanks to the learning progress of participants, the training results (the start of the blogs, the work with videos) became an important support for the refocused design work. With the Bau-ABC trainers’ own videos on opportunities and challenges for learning they could give impulses for the shaping of the Learning Toolbox.

Secondly, after the early Multimedia training the Bau-ABC trainers wanted to introduce a lightweight follow-up activity with their weekly sessions for informal exchanges. However, they came to the conclusion that such activities do not support their learning sufficiently. Therefore, they proposed the Theme Room training concept and its implementation as a ‘whole organisation initiative’ in Bau-ABC. In this way the trainers’ informal learning was to be strengthened in collaboration with the research partners. This provided a new opportunity to bring the ongoing phase of design activities closer to the trainers’ learning processes.

Thirdly, the Theme Room concept was proposed as flexible training model for open learning processes that were using given learning spaces (‘rooms’) for going through work-oriented learning processes that were shaped as themes. The pace was to be kept flexible and the ‘booking of rooms’ in force until the participants had completed their tasks. Then the rooms could be re-furnished. In this sense the model was designed for continuing and customised learning processes. In the first implementation it was neither possible to introduce the Learning Toolbox nor to make any use of it. However, after the successful pilot testing in Bau-ABC it is possible to make the use of Learning Toolbox a central element of such training and to make using its functionality in a wide range of learning tasks.

– – –

I think this is enough of the training interventions and their role in the whole process. We may not have drawn all the conclusions from this rich experience. And we may not have thought through, how to build upon this experience in the follow-up activities. However, we have made enough experiences to see, how the training interventions nurtured the co-design work and how the Theme Room concept can be enriched with the use of Learning Toolbox. This is clearly ‘social shaping’ (Gestaltung) in practice – both elements are co-shaping each other in a dynamic process. And we need to to take this experience further.

More blogs to come …

Catching up with Learning Layers fieldwork – Part Two: Fresh feedback on the use of Learning Toolbox

August 31st, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started a series of blog entries to catch up with the fieldwork of our ongoing EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Because of my sick leave I felt the need to catch up with the recent fieldwork of the Construction pilot with the deployment of Learning Toolbox (LTB) – both in work-based learning and at construction sites.  With my first post I summarised where we ended up with the introduction of the LTB in our field activities earlier this year. With this second post I provide insights into fresh feedback on the use of LTB by construction sector apprentices.

The field visit of Markus Manhart (University of Innsbruck) to Bau-ABC

In the meantime our colleague Markus Manhart from the University of Innsbruck (UIBK) was on field visit at the construction sector training centre Bau-ABC in Rostrup to collect feedback on the use of LTB by apprentices and to interview their trainers. Markus has shared his results with us and I can only do justice to his good work by making his report available via this blog post.

Markus told that he organised two Focus Group sessions (focus on LTB) with six carpenter apprentices (project Holzbau) and had two interviews with their trainers (Bruns, Pape).  In addition he had three Focus Groups with altogether 14 apprentices from another trade (Baugeräteführer) on the use of video annotation tool AchSo. Since the use of mobile devices is restricted (or not allowed at all) during their working periods in construction companies, Markus asked them to reflect on their experiences with using the tools in Bau-ABC (from the initial introduction to present date). Below I give extracts from Markus’ reports (with next to original wording but to some extent edited by me – PK):

First finding: “Guiding replaces strict instructions”:

There is some evidence for a tool-supported change of the training patterns at Bau-ABC. In the past, apprentices and trainers had a rather hierarchical perception of training activities, characterised by limited  autonomy for learners (= apprentices). Trainers told what to do and apprentices expected to get detailed instructions. Using LTB (and also AchSo) is partly contributing to a change towards more autonomous learning. The trainers tend to give apprentices more room of manoeuvre how to prepare and implement their projects. Instead of strictly instructing them, trainers tend to take the role of ‘guides’ for the apprentices. However, the increase of autonomy seems to be dependent on many factors: characteristics of learners, type of learning materials and achieved knowledge. Finally, the interpretation of the trainers on their own role will influence greatly, how such change can occur.

Second finding: “From consuming to contributing”:

In the past, learning material was provided in a one-way communication from trainers to apprentices. Thus, apprentices were more consumers of learning materials and recipients of trainers’ knowledge. Now, the new tools (provided by the LL project) support a transition towards a peer-to-peer mode of treating learning materials and knowledge resources. However, in this context it is important to note that the asymmetry cannot be completely abolished. From the perspective of trainers it is clear that some learning materials and knowledge elements cannot be freely produced or acquired by apprentices. Also, the apprentices are aware of their limits in this respect.

What can be produced and shared in terms of peer-to-peer communication are problems with the apprentices’ projects or experiences with managing such projects (e.g. time management, planning work steps). What should not be produced and shared in such terms are instructions, how to perform project tasks (e.g. methods of how wooden beams should be prepared or constructed) and information on health and safety regulations (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz).

Third finding: “Digital transformation”:

In the light of the two aspects mentioned above, apprentices and trainers have described several episodes as exemplary cases, how the LL tools contribute to changes in training and learning practices. These can be treated as indications on digital transformation in the training and learning culture of Bau-ABC. (Below I give a nutshell summary, more information can be obtained from Markus Manhart.)

Interestingly enough, in the light of these examples digital transformation does not appear as a fundamental change of training and learning pushed by the tools. Instead, it is perceived rather as meaningful changes of specific practices. Regarding meaningfulness the apprentices gave the example on their obligation to document their daily project progress and achieved results.

When working with paper- and pencil-based documentation the apprentices had several possibilities to cheat the trainers with their reports. In general, they could write down what the trainers would expect to get from them (even when this wouldn’t quite correspond with the reality). Thus, if a task has taken a whole day, they could report having completed it in three hours. Or they could omit mentioning problems they had encountered with project tasks in their reports. In practice their trainers would not always be in the position to monitor their work very thoroughly. In such cases, the marks given on their performance would not reflect the actual performance of the apprentices. This deficit in controlling would favour the ones inclined to cheat at the expense of the more honest apprentices.

When documenting the work with project tasks with videos, the apprentices provide a true picture of situations, activities and results. This makes it possible for the trainers to assess, if the task was performed adequately. Thus, they are better informed on what grounds they can give the marks. In this way the changing pattern of reporting on apprentices’ projects serves as an example, how the use of digital tools in the interaction between trainers and learners enhances the apprentices’ commitment and motivation to appropriate task completion.

– – –

I hope I have done justice to Markus’ text and conveyed the message he intended. To me his findings are important clues for our conceptual interpretation on digital transformation in workplace learning – as demonstrated in the context of the training centre Bau-ABC. In my next post I will discuss our recent efforts to promote the use of LTB in craft trade companies in the construction sector.

More blogs to come … 

My journey with the VETNET network – Epilogue: The (rocky) road to ECER 16 in Dublin

August 16th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my five latest posts I have written a series of blogs on my journey with ECER conferences and the VETNET network. In these posts I have discussed the development of the network from its earliest origins in the beginning of 1990s up to present date. These blogs are my contribution to the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2016 and to the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of VETNET – the European Vocational Education and Training Research Network.  Unfortunately I have to stay out of ECER because of health issues, but these posts may serve as building blocks for the collective memory. In this epilogue I shift the emphasis from the past to the preparation of the forthcoming conference with some final remarks.

From ECER 2005 (Dublin) to ECER 2016 (Dublin) – Ten/eleven years after

My first remark is related to the preparation of the VETNET Opening colloquium. Interestingly enough, the VETNET  organisers have invited once again James Wickham as a keynote speaker (he had this ro le also in ECER 2005). To me this was a very good choice. In 2005 made interesting comparisons between ‘the European dream’ and ‘the American mirage’ as leading ideas for European training and labour market policies. Now he has chosen the heading “Always the first cut – vocational education and training in the Irish crisis”. It would be interesting to see, what kind of links he might make between his earlier analyses and those on the present crisis.

Communities, networking and web tools

My second remark is related to the way in which we discussed in ECER 2005 on the role of research communities (in regional initiatives) and on the support provided by social networking and web tools. At that time we were dependent on very early stage of web technologies and related possibilities for social networking. At that stage the interaction between researchers, tool developers and practitioners was far more complicated (and the chances for participative design were far more limited). Now, our experiences with the Learning Layers project (and with the online tools of the VETNET network and the IJRVET journal) open new horizons.

Visibility of VET research

Finally I would like to make a point on the visibility of VET research – both within the EERA community and at a more general level. In both respects the VETNET network was in 2005 still in the process of making its case. The subsequent years of stabilisation, consolidation and new initiatives have clearly given more visibility to VETNET and European VET research in the context of ECER and the EERA community. And in particular the launch of the journal IJRVET and its success have brought the public visibility of European and international VET research to a new level.

– – –

I guess this is enough food for thought for those who are on the (rocky) road to ECER 2016 in Dublin. It is a pity that I cannot join them. But I will keep in touch and then catch up with the news. I am looking forward to that.

More blogs to come …

 

 

New stacks for new users of the Learning Toolbox – Two cases in Bau-ABC

June 3rd, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blogs I have reported on the pilot activities of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in the intermediate training centre for construction sector Bau-ABC. Therefore, I have focused on the intermediate part of apprentice training (between learning in the companies and in vocational schools) carried out in the training halls and outdoor training areas of Bau-ABC. In this post I focus on efforts to open up the use of the integrative toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB) for other users. This was the aim of our teamwork in Bau-ABC this morning. Below I report on the creation of new stacks for LTB that take explicitly into account wider range of users than the current groups of apprentices.

Stack to promote awareness on Health and Safety in construction sector

Already in February  we had our first talks with the Health and Safety specialist (Sicherheitsfachkraft) of Bau-ABC, Thomas Weerts, on the prospect of using LTB for thus special area (see my blog of the 22nd of February). Already at that time we gathered several ideas, how to make essential reference materials and practical tools accessible for users with the help of the functionality of LTB. Now we had found time to put these ideas into practice.

Firstly, we considered it important that this stack should not be exclusively for trainers and apprentices in Bau-ABC. Therefore, we named it as ‘Health and Safety in construction sector’ (Arbeitssicherheit in construction sector).  Thus, it should also be relevant for  in-company trainers (betriebliche Ausbilder) and shop stewards for health and safety (Sicherheitsbeauftragten).

Secondly, the first collection of materials provides links to web-based reference materials of Berufsgenossenschaften (public trade-specific bodies for hazard prevention and social insurance in industry and crafts & trades). In addition, this collection provides links to their mobile apps and to compendia that are available as CD-ROMs in companies and training centres.

Thirdly, another collection provides links to tools with which individual users assess health and safety risks in the context of work tasks (Gefährdungsbeurteilung). In apprentice training this is a mandatory task and it is supported by special worksheets provided by the respective Berufsgenossenschaften. (In the near future these will probably be transformed into mobile apps – which could then pave wider use for such tools beyond the initial training.)

The points above can be summarised quickly. Yet, it requires a special effort to decide, what kind or resources can be made available with different tiles and how to support the work of users with such resources. At the moment we stopped after having produced the welcome message and two collection tiles with the above mentioned resources. Thomas had made a good start and was prepared to continue with the next steps that would bring more interactivity into picture. Here, the prior work with trade-specific stacks (e.g. for carpenters, bricklayers and well-builders) could give some clues, how to integrate special tools and apps to this theme.

Stack to support learning and social integration of apprentices from foreign countries

Parallel to the work with the above mentioned stack Melanie Campbell was preparing a stack for a European mobility scheme. Bau-ABC is coordinating for the North-German construction industries and craft trades the Mobi Pro EU project that promotes mobility of trainees and apprentices from South-European countries – mainly from Spain – to get trained in German companies within the dual system. The first cohort of apprentices has already spent over a year and a new one is coming in a short while. As the experience has shown, the newcomers face many open questions and challenges – not only in their working and learning processes but even more regarding their socio-cultural integration and well-being. Here, the functionality of LTB could provide an easier access to information – but also communication channels between the apprentices and their peers of earlier cohorts.

With these thoughts coming up in our discussion Melanie started to give shape to the stack of the Mobi Pro EU project. After the welcoming message she started to prepare placeholder tiles for different kinds of information resources (general, domain-specific and local) to be accessed and for communication channels to be provided (different groups and chat channels). At the moment the format is still in the process of making, but it provides a possibility for involving different parties in further steps of the design process.

– – –

I end my report here – at the point when we ended our joint session. Both Melanie and Thomas will work further with these stacks and involve other colleagues as well. I am looking forward to the next steps.

More blogs to come …

 

Online disinhibition and the ethics of researching groups on Facebook

April 19th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

There seems to be a whole spate of papers, blogs and reports published lately around MOOCs, Learning Analytics and the use of Labour Market Information. One possibly reason is that it takes some time for more considered research to be commissioned, written and published around emerging themes and technologies in teaching and learning. Anyway I’ve spent an interesting time reading at least some of these latest offerings and will try to write up some notes on what (I think) they are saying and mean.

One report I particular liked is ‘A murky business: navigating the ethics of educational
research in Facebook groups” by Tony Coughlan and Leigh-Anne Perryman. The article, published in the European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, is based on a reflection of their own experiences of researching in Facebook. And as they point out any consideration of ethical practices will almost inevitably run foul of Facebook’s Terms and Condition of Service.

Not withstanding that issue, they summarise the problems as “whether/how to gain informed consent in a public setting; the need to navigate online disinhibition and confessional activity; the need to address the ethical challenges involved in triangulating data collected from social media settings with data available from other sources; the need to consider the potential impact on individual research participants and entire online communities of reporting research findings, especially when published reports are open access; and, finally, the use of visual evidence and its anonymisation.”

Although obviously the use of social networks and Facebook in particular raise their own issues, many of the considerations are more widely applicable to Learning Analytics approaches, especially to using discourse analysis and Social Network Analytics> This discussion came up at the recent EmployID project review meeting. The project is developing a  number of tools and approaches to Workplace Learning Analytics and one idea was that we should attempt to develop a Code of Practice for Learning Analytics in the workplace, similar to the work by Jisc who have published a Code of Practice for Learning Analytics in UK educational institutions.

As an aside, I particularly liked the section on “confessional’ activity’ and ‘online disinhibition’ based on work by Suler (2004) who identified six factors as prompting people to self-disclose online more frequently or intensely than they would in person:

  • Dissociative anonymity – the fact that ‘when people have the opportunity to separate their actions online from their in-person lifestyle and identity, they feel less vulnerable about self-disclosing and acting out’;

  • Invisibility – overlapping, but extending beyond anonymity, physical invisibility ‘amplifies the disinhibition effect’ as ‘people don’t have to worry about how they look or sound when they type a message’ nor about ‘howothers look or sound in response to what they say’;

  • Asynchronicity – not having to immediately deal with someone else’s reaction to something you’ve said online;

  • Solipsistic introjection – the sense that one’s mind has become merged with the mind of the person with whom one is communicating online, leading to the creation of imagined ‘characters’ for these people and a consequent feeling that online communication is taking place in one’s head, again leading to disinhibition;

  • Dissociative imagination – a consciously or unconscious feeling that the imaginary characters “created” through solipsistic interjection exist in a‘make-believe dimension, separate and apart from the demands and responsibilities of the real world’ (Suler, 2004 p.323).

  • The minimization of authority (for people who do actually have some) due to the absence of visual cues such as dress, body language and environmental context, which can lead people to misbehave online.

Suler, J. (2004). The Online Disinhibition Effect. In CyberPsychology & Behaviour,
7(3), (pp. 321-326). Available from http://www.academia.edu/3658367/The_online_disinhibition_effect. [Accessed 10 September 2014]

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