Archive for the ‘workinglearning’ Category

Hyvää juhannusta ja hyvää kesää!

June 22nd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Tulipa mieleen kerrankin kirjoittaa blogiini suomeksi – äidinkielelläni. Tällä viestillä haluan toivottaa kaikille juhannusta viettäville hyvää juhannusta – ja kaikille lukijoilleni hyvää kesää!

Terveiset Suomen juhannuksen keskeltä!

More blogs to come … (and then in English)

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part Three: Examining innovation paths in the field of vocational education and training

June 5th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blog entries I started a series of posts with which I have linked my work in our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project (with focus on vocational education and training (VET))  to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education). As a starting point I presented  the Four-Step Model of the TACCLE4-CPD project that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest. I found this model very helpful for finding and developing strategies to promote digital competences.  In my second post I discussed, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET. In this post I referred to different strategic options for promoting digital competences in the context of vocational learning arrangements. In this post I will illustrate them in the light of my interviews. Below I will firstly recapitulate my starting point and then discuss four parallel innovation paths.

Strategic options for promoting digital competences in vocational learning arrangements

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are different options for linking the introduction of digital tools (and enhancement of digital competences) to the development of vocational learning arrangements. Below these options will be discussed as parallel innovation paths:

1) In some cases the main thrust of innovation is the shaping of a new curricular framework for a new occupation or occupational field. In such contexts the introduction of digital tools and web resources is adjusted to the curriculum processes.

2) In other cases the main thrust of innovation is to introduce integrative toolsets that provide tools for managing training and learning processes and provide access to web resources. In such contexts the use of the tools supports the curriculum implementation.

3) In some cases innovation projects are launched to shape off-the-job learning arrangements to support work process -oriented learning arrangements at workplaces that do not provide opportunities for learning alongside working. In such contexts the main thrust of innovation is to shape a simulated or virtual learning arrangement that makes the real work process accessible for learning.

4) In some cases the starting point of the innovation is the enrichment of ‘ordinary’ vocational learning arrangements by introducing digital tools and web resources to support action-oriented learning. In such cases the innovations can be limited to particular occupational fields or they can be promoted across different domains.

Illustrations of different innovation paths

Below I will present specific projects or innovative approaches that can be considered as exemplary cases for particular innovation paths. All these cases have been described in my overviews on parallel projects or in my recent interview reports (see also my earlier blogs).

  1. The “Kompetenzwerkstatt” path: The Kompetenzwerkstatt project tradition grew from vocational curriculum development projects in which the project team mobilised vocational teachers and trainers to analyse their occupational field and to shape curriculum structures. Later on, the project tradition was enriched with digital tools for managing learning situations, checking prior competences and presenting learning achievements. In the current phase the Kompetenzwerkstatt approach is being implemented in an occupational field that is developing holistic curriculum structures for initial and continuing training (the occupations for sanitary, heating and air-conditioning technologies).
  2. The “Learning Toolbox” path: The Learning Toolbox (LTB) was developed as the main product of the EU-funded innovation project “Learning Layers” and its Construction pilot. After a complex iterative process the partners involved in the Construction pilot developed an integrative toolset to support vocational and work process -oriented learning. From the trainers’ and apprentices’ point of view it was essential that the toolset supported a holistic view on working and learning tasks and a culture of self-organised learning.
  3. The “Brofessio” path: The Brofessio project was launched to support work process -oriented learning processes in such industries in which it is not possible to provide learning opportunities alongside working. In particular this is the case with sealed processes with major time constraints. For such industries the Brofessio project developed the concept of agile learning – based on SCRUM project management techniques, inquiry-based learning strategies and interactive learning culture. Thus, the learning arrangements were organised as a series of learning sprints with key questions and with responsible coaches. In such an approach the use of digital tools and web resources is dependent on the policies of the partner enterprise.
  4. The Smart OER-users’ paths: The fourth type doesn’t refer to a major project but instead to parallel initiatives of responsible teachers and trainers.  The key point is to integrate the use of domain-specific Open Educational Resources into vocational learning arrangements. Due to the pattern variance it is more appropriate to to refer to paths (in plural) rather than to a single path. Also, it is worthwhile to highlight the creativity of the users in finding the appropriate learning resources (rather than celebrating the existing OER communities and their products).

I think this is enough of this topic. I am aware that I have only presented a rather vague outline and I have to do some further work with this theme. Yet, I believe that the above presented set of innovation paths is important for the efforts to develop continuing professional development for vocational teachers and trainers. In particular it is important when we try to get a deeper understanding on the role of digital tools and web resources in vocational learning contexts.

More blogs to come …

 

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part Two: Adapting the Four-Step Model for vocational education and training

June 5th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog entry I started a series of posts with which I try to link my work in our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project (with focus on vocational education and training (VET))  to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education). As a starting point I presented  the Four-Step Model of the TACCLE4-CPD project that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest (in which I couldn’t participate). I found this model very helpful for finding and developing strategies to promote digital competences.  However, my critical point was that it focused primarily on schools, adult education providers and (general) educational authorities. In this post I will discuss, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET. Below I will follow the steps and make some comments from the perspective of VET.

The starting point: The education and training contexts in the field of VET

As I have mentioned, the Four-Step Model has been developed to support school managers, adult education providers and educational authories – to promote the digital competences of teachers. When shifting the emphasis to the field of VET, it is essential to take into account education and training partnerships between vocational schools, enterprises and intermediate training centres. In such contexts the schools are contributing to the enhancement of digital competences together with the other partners. Moreover, the introduction of digital tools for learning is part of the enhancement of digital competences in the occupational domain.

Identifying policies: educational, occupational and wider societal perspectives

When discussing with my interviewees in the field of VET I have come to the conclusion that there are multiple policies that have an impact on promoting digital competences in the field of VET. In this context it is worthwhile to mention government policies at the national (federal), regional (federal state), sub-regional and municipal level. In addition there are public innovation policies and sectoral stakeholder -led initiatives as well as local partnership-oriented initiatives. From this perspective it is appropriate to look at the VET-specific policy constellations that are being followed.

Identifying strategic initiatives and shaping action plans

In addition to the above-mentioned diversity, it is worthwhile to consider, what kinds of strategic initiatives are available for enhancing digital competences in the field of VET. From the perspective of curriculum design/development it is possible to specify the following options:

  • Introduction of vocational curricula to new occupational domains or reshaping the existing training with a new (whole curriculum) approach;
  • Enrichment of existing vocational learning arrangements with integrative digital toolsets;
  • Enrichment of particular vocational learning arrangements with domain-specific digital tools and web resources;
  • Incorporation of simulated learning opportunities into workplace contexts that do not provide opportunities for on-the job training.

In the light of the above, the educational actors can have very different starting points and strategic options.

The role of a “Routemap” and a “TACCLE handbook” in the field of VET

Considering the above presented comments, it is appropriate to take a closer look at results of the interviews with teachers and trainers and with the working perspectives that they have outlined. Once this has been completed, it is possible to discuss, how these products can be adapted to the field of VET. In my next blog post I will take a first step towards interpreting the findings from my interviews in terms of ‘innovation paths’.

More blogs to come ...

 

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part One: The Four-Step Model of TACCLE4-CPD

June 4th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my recent posts I have reported of my fieldwork for our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project. The aim of this project is to develop training models and pedagogic approaches to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. In my blog posts I have mainly emphasised the specific characteristics of my work that focuses on the field of vocational education and training (VET). With this series of posts I will try to link my work to the general framework of the project and to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education) and with school-based learning. The starting point is provided by the Four-Step Model that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest (in which I couldn’t participate). In this first post I will present the outline of the model (as it was explained to me afterwards) and how it can be applied in schools and adult education providers. In the subsequent blogs I will discuss, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET and to my recent findings in the fieldwork.

The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies to promote digital competences

The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies was shaped in the project meeting in Bucharest, when the TACCLE4-CPD partners had workshops with interested schools. When analysing the experiences of the workshops the partners came up with the model that is visualised below.

Four-Step Model of TACCLE4-CPD

Figure 1: The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies to promote digital competences in educational contexts (credit to Graham Attwell and Angela Gerrard)

As we see, the left hand side presents the process steps with key questions and related options, how to proceed. In the middle we see the reference materials that can be used in the process. And on the right hand side we see the underlying questions that clarify, where the questions and answers lead us.

My interpretation of the four-step model (as it stands now)

As I read this model, it speaks out to school managers, educational authorities and curriculum developers. They are challenged to consider, whether their organisation(s) is/are following a policy for promoting digital competences. In this respect they are advised to inform themselves of the European DigCompOrg frameworks (prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Union). In the next phase they are challenged to consider their strategic approach in terms of action plans and needs analyses. Here they are advised to have a closer look at the DigComgEdu framework (also by JRC) for specifying their strategic orientation. Then, in the next phases the model invites to discuss, how continuing professional development (CPD) can be organised and delivered. Here the model refers to  earlier TACCLE resources (Routemap) and to the new Handbook that is being prepared for the TACCLE4-CPD.

As I see it, this model suits very well school-based educational contexts. However, when we discuss the field of VET, we are dealing with a more complex policy environment and institutional/organisational landscape. Moreover, we are dealing with diversity of learning venues (schools, enterprises, intermediate training centres) and with domain-specific characteristics (different occupational fields, different production and service contexts). Therefore, it is appropriate to discuss the Four-Step Model in the light of these challenges. That is the task for my next blog post in this series.

More blogs to come …

Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part Three: Insights into special areas of learning

May 23rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started a series to report on interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. The project seeks to develop  continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers – with focus on enhancing digital competences. As I have mentioned, my work concentrates on the field of vocational education and training (VET). In my two previous posts I have summarised some of the pedagogic points raised by the trainers and their general views on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) as support for apprentice training. With this third post I want to draw attention to the role of LTB as support for two special areas of learning. Here I am reporting directly from an interview with an expert partner in health and safety and in supporting language learning on foreign apprentices. Here it is worthwhile to note that in both areas the use of LTB was started at the end of Learning Layers (LL) project and the trainers of Bau-ABC have been developing their own solutions.

Using Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support training in health and safety

Concerning the area of health and safety, trainers from different trades worked as an informal working group. This effort supported the creation of a coherent LTB stack and helped the trainers to prepare their domain-specific instructions in a coherent way. Now, that the trainers and apprentices in all trades are using LTB, it makes the health and safety material present in a new way – it is no longer info sheets in a folder. The LTB can be accessed by trainers and by apprentices at any time. This has helped to make the training in health and safety more creative and situation-adjusted – as lived practice.

Using Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support foreign apprentices’ language learning

The LTB-stack to support Spanish apprentices in learning occupational vocabulary has been created together with trainers and an external language teacher. It has been enriched with quiz tasks that have made the learning more exciting. Also, this stack has included health and safety terminology. The stack has been helpful in preparing the apprentices for their tests and it will be developed and updated regularly. The usability has been greatly enhanced by the fact that Spanish is provided by LTB as an optional language.

I think this is enough of these examples. Altogether these interviews have given me a good feeling that the main result of our joint LL project – the Learning Toolbox – has been used actively. Moreover, it has become clear that the LTB has not been whatever digital tool among others. Instead, in the context of vocational learning it has proven to be a strategic toolset to promote digital competences and to enhance vocational learning. But we need to work further with these themes.

More blogs to come …

Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part Two: General views on the use of Learning Toolbox

May 23rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous post I started a series to report on interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. The project seeks to develop  continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers – with focus on enhancing digital competences. As I have mentioned, my work concentrates on the field of vocational education and training (VET).  I  still have some interviews on my list. Yet, it has been helpful to write down some points raised by full-time trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC. In this second post I will draw attention to the use of the digital toolset that we have co-developed in the Learning Layers project. I will start with the transition from the common project work to using the main product after the project.

Getting clarity on terms of service and permissions to use the toolset

The Learning Layers (LL) project had been a wide trans-national research and development (R&D) project in which many research partners, technical partners and application partners had been involved. During the long funding period they had co-designed, co-developed and pilot tested digital tools to support learning in the context of work. The digital toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB) was the main product that was developed in the Construction pilot of the LL project. After the project the LTB-developer team launched a start-up company (StackServices) to develop the LTB further and to support user organisations. This provided the basis for further use of the toolset after the project.

After the funding period the service provider has developed a differentiated set of contracts and permissions to regulate the use of the LTB software, the use of the LTB platform and the use of the services of the LTB-developers.

Shaping common structures for trade-specific LTB-stacks and overarching themes

In the LL project the LTB was shaped as a digital toolset that provides stacks (consisting of different kinds of tiles) for the users. During project the trainers who participated in the pilot testing developed their own stacks for their own apprentices and based on their own pedagogic priorities. After the project the trainers have developed a common structure for trade-specific stacks and for overarching themes. Also, they have coordinated the filing of digital worksheets and of photos. Thus, they have common patterns to work with the LTB.

Using LTB to enhance vocational (work process -oriented) learning

In the LL project the use of LTB was adjusted to the apprentices’ learning projects (that were shaped from the perspective of holistic look at planning, task preparation, task implementation and assessment). The learners were guided to self-organised (individual or team-based) learning. Whilst the LTB was at that time used mainly as trainers’ tool to provide guidance and instructions, it is now increasingly used as apprentices’ tool to report on their projects. Moreover, the use of specific Apps like GoConqr quiz apps has considerably enriched the learning process.

In particular LTB has served well as a central channel to essential web resources, such as the norms or regulations (as summaries) that need to be taken into account in construction work and to users’ guides for machinery and vehicles (also as summaries).

Using LTB from the perspective of apprentices

In all the interviews I got the picture that the apprentices have received well the use of LTB – once they have got the login sorted out and created their own account. The WLAN functions better and there are tablet PCs available at the training workshops. Via LTB the apprentices get advance information on the forthcoming training projects with which they will work during the next presence period in the training centre. When they are working with the projects the LTB serves as a documentary toolset for recording the interim results and final results. Moreover, the apprentices can check whether they are working correctly and eventually ask for advice (with reference to their photos etc.). And if something is not quite right, they can take the necessary measures and update their documentation. However, the final reporting with the apprentices’ portfolio reports has not yet been digitized – that is depending of training regulations (not  a matter for local decisions).

I guess this is enough of the general picture on using Learning Toolbox as support for training. In my next blog I will discuss the relevance of Learning Toolbox for two overarching learning areas – training and learning in ‘health and safety’ and support for learning German as foreign language (with focus on domain-specific vocabulary in construction sector).

More blogs to come …

 

 

Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part One: Trainers’ reflections on craftsmanship and pedagogy

May 20th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks I have been doing interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. In this project we focus on continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers in order to promote their digital competences. Here, the main point of interest is to find appropriate uses of digital tools and web resources in order to enhance the quality of learning. My contribution to the project is to provide analyses from the field of vocational education and training (VET) and to develop models and materials for CPD measures in the field of VET. I am still in the middle of the interviews but I find it appropriate summarise some first impressions from my discussions with trainers in the vocational training centre Bau-ABC with which we have worked together several years. In this first post I will take up some pedagogic points on the role of digital tools in craft trades and vocational learning.

Craftsmanship vs. use of digital tools

In many interviews the trainers pointed to the traditional idea of craftsmanship – to make something with your own hands. This refers to the sense of working with manual tools, to feel the materials with your own hands and to be able to assess the quality with your own senses. From this perspective older trainers and craftsmen have often reservations regarding the use of digital technologies as support for working and learning: “That’s how we have always done these things …”. Also, the introduction of stand-alone tools and apps has not always been successful. Moreover, may allegedly user-oriented apps or instruction videos are not of sufficient quality  to support learning. Furthermore, when introducing new technologies, there is often an anxiety that this brings more work to the trainers or craftsmen – instead of offloading them.

In the light of the above it is important to approach the trainers and craftsmen with solutions that work in practice and support working and learning in their trades.

Vocational learning vs. use of digital tools

Concerning the newer generations of apprentices, it is worthwhile to note that they have been less exposed to manual work, getting in touch with the materials and working with traditional tools. Moreover, their computing skills tend to concentrate on operating their smartphones. This provides a challenge for trainers and craftsmen – how to incorporate the use of digital tools into vocational learning without transforming the learning process into a virtual world

In the light of the above it is of vital importance that the use of digital tools shall serve the planning, preparation, implementation and assessment of work process -oriented learning. And the role of digital tools is to deepen the understanding of one’s learning – not as a short cut to answers provided by someone else. This is in particular the case when using digital tools with the cross-cutting theme ‘health and safety’ at work.

Thoughts on the future of craftsmanship

At the end of the interviews we shifted the emphasis from promoting digital competences in the current craft trades to a bigger picture of digital transformation through entire production, service and marketing networks. In the public debate we see often the dominance of negative scenarios that anticipate redundancy of craftsmanship and replacement of human workforce by robots, advanced automation and ‘internet of things’. From the perspective of their own trades the trainers made the following points that outline new possibilities for advanced craftsmanship:

  • Concerning carpenters, there will always be a need for advanced craftsmanship in the renovation of traditional buildings. Parallel to this, thanks to the new construction techniques, wooden constructs are being used as the structures of high buildings. Moreover, even when human workforce can be replaced by robots, this can be used as a basis for new complementarity in which craftsmen are engaged in creative tasks and robots in heavy tasks.
  • Concerning well-builders and tunnel-builders, there are new possibilities for using geo-data and advanced sensors and new techniques for drilling.  Yet the risk analyses, when starting drilling (horizontal or vertical) require communication between craftsmen on the site and authorized experts.
  •  Concerning welding, the use of welding robots is widespread in the industries. Yet, in outdoor construction work in which the results should sustain heavy strain and climate changes, it is essential to have a good understanding of materials, circumstances and differences in the quality of work. The sensors of welding robots may not be in the position to guarantee the required safety and sustainability.

I guess this is enough of these aspects. I still have some interviews listed for this week. If needed, I will update this post with further post. However, in my next post I would like to discuss, how the trainers commented the usability of the Learning Toolbox as a digital toolset to support work process -oriented learning.

More blogs to come ...

Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part Three: The Europa-Fete in Bremen

May 12th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

I started a series of blog posts by mentioning that we celebrated the Europe-Day on Thursday, the 9th of May, here in Bremen. Then, In my first post I explained the background of the Europe-Day and then reflected on two periods of my career as a European researcher in vocational education and training (VET). In my second post I reflected on my encounters with expatriate communities and/or European initiatives in Thessaloniki (1995-2002) and Bremen (from 2005 on). Now it is time to get back to the celebration of the Europe-Day. Below I have selected some photos of the Europa-Fete at the central sqare (Marktplaz) of Bremen, surrounded by the old City Hall (Rathaus), the new City hall (Bürgerschaft), the churches and old buildungs.

Europa-Fete Bremen-1

Here the stage for performers (in front of the new City hall, to the left the St. Pete’s Cathedral)

Europa-Fete Bremen-4

Here cheerful and active expatriate Finns and Finland-friends with a Finnish flag …

Europa-Fete Bremen-7

… but representing the Bremen Lapland-initiative that focuses mainly on the Sami people on Russian territory.

Europa-Fete Bremen-9

And last but not least: The stand of the “Pulse of Europe” movement that has been active during the last few years. It has kept our European spirits up whatever has happened in the European politics.

I guess this is enough of this reporting. The next Pulse of Europe event will start in two hours. I need to get there in good time. But I will keep the European themes up while working and learning for Europe.

More blogs to come ...

Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part Two: Joining the expatriates’ communities

May 11th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started from the fact that we had just celebrated the Europe-Day on Thursday the 9th of May. That led me to think about the origins of present-day European Union and about the community-building initiatives that brought it into being. This led me to think about my own career as a European researcher working for Europe (during my years in Cedefop) and in European cooperation projects (during my years in the University of Bremen). Now it is time to look at the other side of the coin – my participation in expatriate communities in Thessaloniki and in Bremen (beyond the working communities).

When Cedefop moved to Thessaloniki, most of us knew very little, what to expect. Luckily enough, our Greek colleagues went as a pioneering troop to find out of the housing opportunities and to give us then a helping hand. This worked very well and soon we all found our new home bases. In the beginning we remained as a relative close trans-national group of  ‘castaways’ but gradually we started to find local friends in our new neighbourhoods.

For me, the village of Thermi was a very nice environment and it was also the meeting point of the Thessaloniki Caledonian society. And a handful of us – Cedefop colleagues and my neighbours got engaged in the Scottish community. Some of us were of Scottish or Irish origins, some had studied in Scotland and some were adopted Scots. So, there we were celebrating the Scottish anniversaries with appropriate music, singing and dancing.

Via my Scottish contacts I then found out that there was also a Finnish community in Thessaloniki. I was surprised to discover that there were that many people of my nationality in the Thessaloniki area. And, moreover, the Finnish mothers and fathers had a “Suomi-koulu” (a voluntary Saturday school for teaching the Finnish language). So, I got also engaged in their activities and visited several times at the Suomi-koulu (and brought my Finnish visitors there when possible). During my time in Thessaloniki we celebrated the 80th Independence Day of Finland on the 6th of December in 1997. It was a remarkable Community event and I have still good memories of that. (It has been nice to rediscover this community and active members via Facebook – we have not lost the contacts.)

When I started in Bremen, I knew already the institute and most of the colleagues on the basis of my European cooperation activities and frequent visits to Bremen. So, both in terms of work and in terms of leisure activities I found very soon my circles. Funnily enough, it took a longer time before I got into contact with the Finnish expatriate community in Bremen. Firstly, I got into contact with the Suomi-koulu (the voluntary Saturday school in Finnish) that they had also in Bremen. But the real inspiration I got during the year of festivities to celebrate the 100th Independence Day in Finland. I attended the opening event in which the chairperson of the Sami Parliament gave a speech of the rights of the Sami people in Finland and in the neighbouring countries. That led me to a more active participation in the events of the Finnish community. And as a highlight we celebrated as a community the 100th Independence Day in a restaurant at the Old Town of Bremen. And during these activities it has been interesting to notice that we have several German people who are very committed friends of Finland, Lapland and the Sami people. So, it is not only us – Finns – that are socialising among ourselves. We are nicely networked and looking ‘out of the box’.

I guess this is enough of these memories. I feel privileged that I have had a chance to experience such things in Thessaloniki and in Bremen. What strikes me now – years after – is the success story of the Suomi-koulu in Thessaloniki. What I hear from the parents of the school children of those years is that the school gave the youngsters a great boost in learning Finnish. And later on, during the years of economic crisis in Greece, most of these young people managed to study in Finland. And now some of them are returning back to Greece as qualified experts. This, to me as a committed European, is something worth celebrating.

And this leads me to the starting point, the celebration of the Europe-day in Bremen. That is s topic for my next post.

More blogs to come …

 

Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part One: Personal reflections

May 10th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday, the 9th of May, we (citizens of Bremen) celebrated Europe. As we know, the European Union has chosen this date as the Europe-Day. The background is that on this very day in 1950 the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman gave speech in which he outlined a plan to create a European community of producers of coal and steel. This plan was eagerly received by the neighbouring countries and soon led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC). Due to several waves of enlargement this closed club transformed itself into the European Union as we know it today. At that time it was not self-evident that the European countries – still recovering from the destructive war and still struggling with the neighbourhood relations – would be able to enter such a community-building process. So, there is a good case to celebrate this community-building process – looking back at the Europe before it was started.

Thinking of my personal career, starting from the year 1994 I have been mostly working for Europe and in European cooperation projects. Firstly, I was sent by the Finnish government to work at Cedefop – European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training – as a national seconded expert. This happened during the time when Finland was a Candidate Country and a member of the European Economic Area. The idea of the Finnish educational authorities was to send a national expert to get experience from the agency and to work Finland more closely into the cooperation. However, this period was overshadowed by change of management in Cedefop and by the high level decision to relocate Cedefop from Berlin to Thessaloniki.

The next phase in my career was when Cedefop moved to Thessaloniki and I got a position as a project manager (temporary EU official) in Cedefop. This happened during the time when Cedefop had lost most of its project managers (who changed to other EU services) and had to start its activities on new grounds. At this point I took a role in promoting European research cooperation in the field of vocational education and training (VET). On the one hand I started monitoring and accompanying European projects that worked with educational innovation agendas. On the other hand I started to organise synergy-promoting seminars in which these projects shared their ideas and results with each other. Thirdly, I initiated cross-project symposia and round tables at the ECER conferences under the umbrella of the VETNET network that was founded in 1996 at the ECER conference in Sevilla. Altogether, these activities and the related publication initiatives supported community-building processes in European VET research.

However, my contract was of limited duration and my activities were not considered as impressive enough or productive enough by all in Cedefop. Whilst the research community appreciated the ‘networking the networks’, I was confronted with questions, where are the results for Cedefop and how this helps to make Cedefop visible for all stakeholders it is supposed to serve. So, in 2002 my temporary contract came to an end and I returned back to Finland.

After a period of looking around and searching for new grounds I was invited to start as a project-based research at Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen. During the earlier phases of my career I had come to  contact with colleagues at ITB and during my Cedefop years I had intensive cooperation with them. From 2005 on I have been working at ITB primarily in European cooperation projects. And once again, these projects have had a community-building character and they have build on the earlier phase of ‘networking the networks’. So, in this spirit I have been working in projects on workplace learning, training the trainers, learning about politics, practice-based learning in VET and higher education. And finally, a major theme has been to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in VET. All this has been characterised by ‘learning from each other’ and ‘learning for Europe’.

In this spirit the late Jenny Hughes created a Facebook account for the “Learning about Politics” project with the name ‘Learn Politics’. And since this ‘person’ had to announce a birthday, Jenny gave the 9th of May – the Europe-day. I think this was a good choice. When celebrating Europe, we celebrate the community-building processes across Europe.

I guess this is enough of my personal reflections. In my next post I will concentrate on the celebration of the Europan anniversary in Bremen.

More blogs to come …

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    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


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