Archive for the ‘workinglearning’ Category

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Three: New emphasis on workplace learning and apprentice training in Finland

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In the first post of this series I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy alongside a the ongoing coalition talks of three parties. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. With my previous post I gave a picture on the educational policy background for the current debate (looking back to the reforms of the 1990s). With this post I try to complete this picture by discussing the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system.

1. New emphasis on workplace learning in initial VET programs

I my previous post I described how the shaping of initial vocational education (mainly school-based) became part of a larger reform agenda. The duration of the vocational programs played a role in the attempts to create a balance between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ options in the upper secondary education. However, it appeared that this balancing approach put the main emphasis on the desired equality of these options as educational choices. By the end of the 1990s the discussion on initial VET gave more emphasis on workplace learning.

Already in the early 1990s several minor initiatives were taken to increase the amount of work experience placements in the school-based vocational education. By the end of 1990s the educational authorities and the Social Partners had agreed to strengthen the emphasis and to enhance the relative importance of workplace learning. In the new curricular frameworks the amount of workplace-based learning was increased to the equivalent of 1 year in full-time education. The educational authorities spoke of the 2+1 model. For this extension new cooperation frameworks were developed for vocational schools and participating enterprises. In this way both parties took responsibilities on the arrangement and monitoring – although the overarching responsibility was kept at the vocational schools.

Altogether, this was a cultural and organisational reorientation and it was introduced via pilot projects that were accompanied by an educational research project led by the University of Jyväskylä (and by Dr Johanna Lasonen as the key researcher). Looking back, the projects gave a positive picture of the enhancement of workplace learning. At the same time they pointed out that the development of appropriate workplace learning opportunities required efforts from all parties involved.

2. New interest in apprentice training

Parallel to the reforms in initial VET the policy makers who were concerned about appropriate solutions for adult learners had been promoting more flexible arrangements for obtaining vocational qualifications. In this strategy the nation-wide network for vocational adult education centres and the combined schemes of preparatory courses and competence-based assessment had played a central role. Without going into details with this policy development it is worthwhile to note that this approach seemed to be more appropriate for advanced vocational learners who were looking for frameworks for continuing professional development.

In the light of my previous blogs and the above mentioned remarks it is more apparent that the new interest in apprentice training has been linked more to adult learning than initial vocational eduction for youth. Given the scenario that the Finnish society is rapidly aging and that the youth cohorts are getting smaller, there has been an increased concern of providing appropriate learning opportunities for adults who are already in working life but lacking formal qualifications. for this clientele a modern apprentice training with tailored vocational subject teaching appeared to be a timely solution.

The modernisation of apprentice training had already been started in the early 1990s and the support organisation was reformed parallel to organisational reforms in VET. Currently apprentice training is managed from intermediate apprenticeship offices that are located in vocational school consortia and function as the brokers between the interested enterprises and the supporting vocational schools.

As has been mentioned above, apprentice training has been taken up more strongly as an option for adult learners but more recently it has been brought into discussion also as an option for young people. In particular in the construction sector there is a strong interest to promote a flexible transition from the earlier 2+1 model to a variant in which the third year would be implemented as apprentice training. However, as we know from different sources, this requires mutual agreement between different parties involved.

I think this is enough to set the issues of workplace learning and apprentice training to the bigger educational policy context. Having said that I think that it is worthwhile to consider, how this Finnish educational policy context fits to broader European group picture – both concerning structural reforms and the role of workplace learning.

More blogs to come …

Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part Two: Looking back at the Finnish reforms in 1990s

May 25th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I informed of a new debate on the future course of the Finnish educational policy that has emerged as a by-product of the ongoing coalition talks after the parliament election in April. The focal issue is seemingly the duration of the initial vocational education and training (VET) programs. Yet, as the first reactions to the news from the coalition talks indicate, there seems to be much more at stake than a seemingly simple decision. With this blog post I try to give a picture on the educational reforms of the 1990s that gave the Finnish educational policy its core principles and the VET system its current frameworks.

1. What were the issues for the educational reforms in the 1990s?

The reform debates of the early 1990s were introduced by critical assessment of the earlier reforms of the 1970s. These earlier reforms had tried to provide a balance between the general (academic) track and the vocational (professional) track in the upper secondary education. In particular the status differences between different vocational/professional education options were to be reduced and the vocational/professional routes were supposed to become more attractive. After a lengthy implementation period  the reality showed a different picture.

The critical reviews by the educational authorities and independent research groups were summarised in 1990 in the following way:

1) The educational demand was characterised by academic drift: In spite of the efforts to create a new balance between the tracks, the educational demand of young people drifted towards the general/academic track and towards university studies. Given the fact that the Finnish universities have taken their students on the basis of domain-specific entrance examinations, this led to increased queueing of candidates for university studies.

2) The transition to vocational/professional options remained status-oriented: In spite of the efforts to reduce the status differences and to promote vocational progression, the educational demand led towards segmentation. The higher vocational (professional) options were overwhelmed by graduates from the general/academic track whilst graduates from vocational schools remained minority.

3) The use of lower vocational education options as transit stations: Parallel to the above mentioned tendencies there was an increase in the enrollment of graduates from the general/academic track to lower vocational education programs. Here, the interest was not necessarily to obtain an additional qualification but, instead, to obtain a domain-speficic transit station (to prepare for entrance examinations of universities or higher vocational education). Due to this increased demand the vocational schools started to develop special options for graduates from the general/academic track. In this way the vocational schools tried to encourage such learners to complete their programs instead of using them as transit stations (and drop the programs if they got an access to ‘higher’ option).

2. What were the structural changes and the guiding principles outlined by the reforms?

The reforms that were outlined via high level conferences, public consultations and a pilot period took the following course:

a) Creation of a non-university sector of higher education: The higher vocational (professional) education had already become post-secondary and recruited mainly graduates of academic track. Several domain-specific institutes had already pushed for decisions to upgrade them as colleges of higher education. Now, the reform opted for upgrading such institutes into HE but at the same time creating merged polytechnics that would cater for the constant development of their departments. Via these mergers and a national accreditation process the newly created polytechnics became eligible for the Bologna process. (Later on, the polytechnics started to use the name ‘universities of applied sciences’.)

b) Separation of the secondary vocational education from the higher vocational education: The above mentioned reform led to an institutional separation between the secondary vocational education (that remained in vocational schools) and the higher level (that was upgraded and integrated into the polytechnics). As a compensatory measure, the reform maintained the vocational progression route from secondary vocational education to polytechnics.

c) Flexible curricular cooperation between ‘academic’ and vocational programs in upper secondary education: Another major feature of the reforms of the 1990s was to enable flexible curricular cooperation between upper secondary schools (‘academic track’) and vocational schools. Instead of integrating them into a common institutional and curricular framework, new cooperation options were opened. Firstly, learners of both type of schools got the opportunity to choose courses from the other type of schools. E.g. ‘academic learners’ with interest in economics could choose commercial subjects from vocational schools. And vice versa, ‘vocational learners’ with interest in continuing to higher education could choose general subjects from the upper secondary schools. One step further was the option of obtaining dual qualifications – the Finnish baccalaureate (Abitur) and the vocational qualification – via a mutually adjusted schedule.

Altogether this reform agenda tried to to solve the problems of the earlier periods in the following way:

  • by redirecting the academically oriented educational demand to both universities and to the newly created polytechnics,
  • by maintaining the vocational progression routes (from vocational schools to polytechnics)
  • by encouraging boundary-crossing curricular cooperation and educational choices between the ‘academic’ and ‘vocational programs in upper secondary education.

In this respect the emphasis was mainly on providing new opportunities for Higher Education, but at the same time trying to enhance the attractiveness of vocational education as well. From this point of view it was important that the vocational programs had the same duration as the general/academic programs.

I think this is enough of the educational reforms and of structural changes of the 1990s. With this quick recollection I tried to reconstruct the political and cultural background of the current debates. However, there is a need to have a closer look at the role of workplace learning and apprentice training in the Finnish VET system as well.

More blogs to come …



Thoughts on reforms in vocational education and training (VET) – Part One: What is at stake in current Finnish debates?

May 23rd, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Given the fact that I am blogging as a Finnish expatriate living outside my home country, it has not been my habit to comment politics in Finland. In some of my recent blogs I have reported on the Finnish pilots linked to our ongoing Learning  Layers (LL) project. An article of the pilots with the video annotation tool AchSo! brought into picture bigger issues of educational policies and of sustainable work. This gave rise to brief comments on the educational background of the pilot (collaboration between school-based vocational education, workplace learning and flexible transition to apprentice training). At the same time the  Sustainability Commitment process initiated by the Ministry of Environment seemed to provide an appropriate working perspective for dissemination of good practice. Now, after the general elections in Finland the negotiations on a three-party government coalition have raised new questions on the future course for developing the Finnish vocational education and training (VET) system. This gives me a reason to write a series of blogs on the past Finnish VET reforms and how they can be mapped to a European group picture. But firstly I need to give a quick view on the current VET policy issue in the coalition talks.

 1. What is being discussed in the coalition talks concerning VET?

Last week the Finnish media reported that one of the hot issues in the coalition talks is the duration of the initial VET programs. Here we have several issues. Firstly, the Finnish – predominantly school-based VET – has been organised as part of the upper secondary education. The duration of three years has been based on two main arguments:

  • Firstly, to open a vocational pathway to higher education (with sufficient general educational content).
  • Secondly, to accommodate an appropriate amount of workplace learning (base on cooperation arrangements between vocational schools and partners enterprises).

Now the news reports tell that there is a pressure to cut the costs of full-time education by cutting the duration of full-time vocational education. Also, there is a wish to promote a quicker transition of young people to working life. In this context the role of apprentice training and work experience placements are being mentioned as necessary measures.

2. How have these news been received in the public?

So far the news have not been based on public documents or statements by politicians. Therefore,  both the news coverage and the public debates have been based on sophisticated guesses. In their first reactions the Trade Union of Education in Finland (representing all teachers in Finland) and the Union of vocational learners in Finland have criticised these plans heavily. They are concerned about the functioning of vocational pathways to higher education as well as of the quality of workplace learning. Altogether, they are concerned of possible short-term rationalisation measures that may have severe negative consequences – whether from the perspective of providing educational opportunities or from the perspective of integrating young people into working life. Alongside these strong reactions there have been some individual remarks that Finland should look at other models and alternative solutions.

It is not my purpose to enter this Finnish debate on my blog (that I am writing in English as an expatriate working abroad). Yet, as a VET researcher who has started his career by comparing European VET reforms and then continued by monitoring European cooperation, I feel the need to look back. Firstly, I want to have a second look at the Finnish reforms that have shaped the current educational frameworks. Secondly, I want to explore, what role apprentice training and integration of school-based and workplace-based learning have played in these reforms. Thirdly, I want to make some comparisons to parallel developments in other European countries. We need to have a picture, how we have come to the current situation – what has been achieved and what may appear as weaknesses. Also, we need to reflect, what may appear as ‘good practice’ in a European comparison and why.

I think this is enough for the moment. I hope that I get my thoughts on paper in due time.

More blogs to come …

Training Day in Bau-ABC – Part Two: How to work with the Learning Toolbox?

May 15th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

This post continues the reports on the recent highlight event of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and its construction sector pilot in North Germany – the Training Days of the training centre Bau-ABC (that took place on Monday and Tuesday this week). On Monday the LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu organised three workshop sessions to present the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to plan further pilot activities with LTB in Bau-ABC. In my previous post I gave an overview on the event as such and on our contributions. In this post I will focus on the issues that were raised and on the results of different sessions and working groups.

1. General issues to be taken into account

Already after the general presentations we were confronted by several issues that we need to consider when preparing the actual pilot activities with LTB to be used with mobile devices:

  • Officially the use of mobile phones is prohibited in the training centres – mainly because the use of them is perceived as distraction. When using their smartphones, the apprentices seem to have their attention elsewhere than in their working and learning tasks. Even if the trainers can see that these devices can be used to support work and learning, there is a need to get others convinced.
  • Use of mobile devices is often a safety risk in traffic and in working life – therefore, many companies have prohibited the use of mobile devices at construction sites (or allowed only the site manager/ supervisor to use one). These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • Video recordings from working and training contexts need to pay attention to specific sensitivity issues – are these recordings documenting good or bad practice, is the behaviour of the people appropriate, are the videos showing something that is confidential … These issues need to be reflected in the code of conduct for users.
  • From the pedagogic point of view use of multimedia and web can support different types of learning behaviour: a) It can lead to ‘light learning’ that uses quick searches and quick documenting solutions that seem to give appropriate answers (without paving the way to adequate understanding of the problems and the solutions). b) Or it can lead to ‘smart learning’ in which digital media and web resources are used as illustrations that give insights into problems, solutions and understanding of appropriate practice.

These introductory discussions brought us (once again) to the picture that the use of mobile devices, digital media and web resources has to be introduced in a work- and context-adjusted way.

2. The first workshop on initial training: picking exemplary themes for particular occupations

In the first workshop session we had groups that represented the following occupations/occupational fields: concrete builders (one group), carpenters and indoor builders (one group), road builders and pipeline builders (one group). Each of these groups had as their starting point a specific project for apprentices in the respective occupation. The trainers were looking for ways to introduce Learning Toolbox into the project work. In this session the groups had somewhat different concerns and interests:

a) The group of concrete builders (Betonbauer) was concerned of the lack of written instructions for older techniques to build frames for concrete constructs. Currently, most of the frames for concrete builders are standardised and often pre-fabricated. Thus, the transfer of craftsmen’s know-how on building special-shaped frames is not supported by up-to-date learning materials. This could be compensated by video recordings that are edited into digital learning materials.

b) The group of carpenters (Zimmerer) listed several points in which the use of digital media and access to web were found useful, starting form general health and safety instructions, access to drawings, QR codes referring to appropriate tools, Barcode scanner that refers to materials, tools for documentation of learning achievements.

c) The group of road builders and pipeline builders (Strassenbauer, Rohrleitungsbauer) discussed the possibilities to link drawings, photos and DIN norms to each other, creative ways to introduce technical terminology, creative ways to control learning gains and smart ways to use videos for presenting essential ‘tricks of the trade’.

As a common point of interest the groups of the first workshop session drew attention to differentiated communication channels (messages to all vs. bilateral communication between apprentice and trainer), collecting examples of good practice to be presented to all and on differentiated ways to document learning progress at different stages of apprentice training.

3. The second workshop on initial training: developing core themes for groups of occupations

In the second workshop session the parallel groups consisted of mutually linked occupations or occupational fields and the participants had selected integrative ‘core projects’ in which they explored the use of digital media and web resources:

d) The group of well-builders and tunnel-builders (Brunnenbauer, Spezialtiefbauer) had chosen a project task on disassembling, maintenance & testing and assembling of pumps used in their trades. Here the discussion focused on the uses of digital media to visualize the processes, to draw attention to key concepts and to safety precautions. Here, a critical issue was, how to guide the work with video recording so that the documents are appropriate for the project and for the apprentices’ learning processes.

e) The group representing occupations in metal and machine techniques (Metall- und Maschinentechnik, Baugerätetechnik) had also selected a project that drew attention to the core knowledge of all these occupations – producing a threaded plate according to technical drawing (Herstellen einer Gewindeplatte gemäß Zeichnung). The group discussed different phases of the project and then drew attention to points of intervention with digital media and web tools (e.g. digital access to references, producing user-generated learning contents with apprentices, using QR-codes to demonstrate health and safety risks and using digital tools and apps to simulate use of real tools plus to discuss quality criteria and tolerances).

f) The group of road-builders, bricklayers and plasterers (Strassenbauer, Maurer, Fliesenleger) had also selected an integrative project – building a parking place for vehicles transporting disabled people (Behindertenparkplatz). Here the discussion focused on the special challenges of such task (e.g. search for information on the requirements, making the scattered information accessible for the groups of construction workers, using special techniques for constructing adequate slopes and surfaces, documentation of the work and simulation of the final inspection and acceptance of the work by public authorities).

Here, the groups focused on integrating the use of digital media and web resources into the logic of the selected projects.

4. The workshop on continuing training: identifying uses for LTB and other tools/apps promoted by LL project

The final workshop focused on the usability of the Learning Toolbox and other LL tools in the continuing training schemes. Here, the basic problem was that we could not rely on similar projects as in the initial training. Secondly, we were still demonstrating tools that were not yet finalised. And thirdly, most of the participants were only getting familiarised with the LL project on the whole. Finally, we were discussing issues that can partly be implemented as spin-offs and by-effects of the LL project work in the initial training, but partly require major spin-out activities.  Yet, given these limitations the participants could make several points for further discussion alongside the pilot activities in apprentice training.

5. Next steps to be taken

I think this is as much as I can say about the workshops and on the way the prepared us for working with the Learning Toolbox. We saw (once again) that the trainers are willing to start working with it. We also noticed, that we (the accompanying LL teams of ITB and Pontydysgu) need to join them when the domain-specific piloting with LTB applications will start. There are several technical, practical and pedagogic issues coming up in that phase. So, we are looking forward to a new collaborative phase in the fieldwork with Bau-ABC trainers.

More blogs to come …

Training Day in Bau-ABC – Part One: Presenting the Learning Toolbox

May 12th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday, (11th  of May) we experienced an important milestone in the fieldwork of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in particular in the construction sector pilot in North Germany. A group of LL team members from ITB and Pontydysgu visited the annual Training Days of the training centre Bau-ABC. During the first Training Day we had three workshop sessions to present the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to organise further pilot activities with LTB in Bau-ABC.

1. Background and preparation

Looking back to the year 2014, a demonstration of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) might not sound as a great step forward – we had had such sessions on various occasions. Yet, there was a great difference between the earlier ones and one implemented yesterday. Since September 2014 the LL project had tried to mobilise forces across the consortium to develop software solutions for LTB. And – what is more important – the developers were working towards scalable solutions. Thus, applications and system solutions for Bau-ABC would not remain insular innovations but provide a basis for wider roll-out of innovations. In this spirit the developers at different locations were working with the architecture of the LTB, the linkage to the installation package “Layers Box”, the linkage to Social Semantic Server (to get services for users and hosts) and the linkage to the community platform These all were seen as parts of a comprehensive solution that provides the basis for scaling up.

This all was promising – but for the programmers this was complicating. Therefore, several design sprints and an Alpha Beta Camp were needed to coordinate the efforts. Yet, in the light of the difficulties of the programmers, it was necessary to to run the Training Day with a simulated online demo. Our colleagues in CIMNE – Fabio and Andy – managed to produce an online demo that gives insights into the tile structures and into building stacks (sets of tiles) to develop and share contents with LTB. We were lucky to have this piece of work completed just in time for the event.

2. The event and our sessions

Altogether the Training Days (as I have translated the name in English) are an internal training event for the staff of Bau-ABC Rostrup, for the parallel training centre ABZ Mellendorf and for Bauakademie Nord (the joint umbrella organisation for Continuing Vocational Training). During these days both training centres and the office of Bauakademie are closed, whilst the staff is participating in training sessions. As we saw it, there were several parallel strands of training – for the trainers in initial training (Lehrwerkmeister) for the organisers of continuing training and for the providers of supporting services. The Learning Layers project was invited to organise three workshop sessions during the first day. Two of these sessions for trageted for different groups of trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) and the third one for the coordinators of continuing training (including also the system administrator and the ICT support staff).

In all these sessions we had the same opening contributions. Werner Müller gave a brief overview on the LL project as a whole, on the Learning Toolbox as the central ‘tool’ for our pilots in the construction sector. He also gave insights into the supporting software solutions and into the technology package “Layers Box” that makes it possible for the local users to work with their own tools and to keep control over their data. After this overview I gave a brief explanation how these elements had become parts of the ‘big package’ solution that our developers need to get working and why we cannot reduce our pilot to a purely local solution. Then, Dirk Stieglitz from Pontydysgu navigated us through the online-demonstration and showed how the functionality of the Learning Toolbox will work in the matured version.

3. The power of the online-demonstration

Werner had already given the first impression, how a tile structure of Learning Toolbox could look on the surface of a mobile device (smartphone or tablet PC). However, when Dirk started his presentation, the whole design was brought alive from a standstill. We were logged in and we got an overview of the tiles with different functionality – static contents, embedded videos, RSS feeds, App links, navigation and QR-reader. Then we started our journey through the existing demo stack that had been composed for the LTB pilot – with special attention to possible contents and multimedia products relevant for Bau-ABC.

We had examples of uploaded learning materials (selected from trainer Markus Pape’s Zimmererblog, we viewed the emerging collection of documents on health and safety (Arbeits- und Gesundheitsschutz) and we scrolled through the collection of the earlier videos on uses of LTB that were recorded in Bau-ABC last year. Then, we got insights, how new tiles and new stacks can be created (and what kind of programming tool will be used for these operations). Finally, we also saw, how the toolbox can be used for sending/receiving messages either individually or within a group. At the end of the presentation we were happy to find out that the software that was used for the demo is the real one to be used with the mobile devices.

4. The way forward

In the light of the above we were happy to kick off the workshops for which the trainers had selected thematic projects that they use in apprentice training. Now, that we had got a common picture of the current phase of development, we agreed that it is high time for the trainers in Bau-ABC and for us (as the R&D partners) to work together to enable a good start of the pilots. We shared the feeling that quite a lot of preparatory work can be done with contents and videos to be used via the Learning Toolbox. And we used the workshop sessions as an opportunity to get our ideas clear – with the help of creative group work.

I think this is enough of the event as such and on our contributions. In the next post I will discuss some issues that were raised and the results of the working groups.

More blogs to come …

PS. Some photos and a video recording of Werner’s presentation can be found in the Facebook group “Learning Layers Photos”,



1st of May – Part Three: The End of World War II

May 6th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

After the First of May we in Europe are experiencing the 70th anniversary of the end of World War. In different countries this anniversary has a different meaning and it is being celebrated on different dates. The countries that were under the occupation of NS-regimes are celebrating their dates of liberation by the allied forces. The major west allies are celebrating the 8th of May as the great day during which the NS-regime in Germany signed the unconditional capitulation. The Soviet Union and afterwards the Russian Federation has celebrated the 9th of May – on which the capitulation came into force – as the Day of Victory. Having said all this it is interesting to observe – as an expatriate living in Germany – how the Germans take these anniversaries.

 1. The difficult issue “liberation”

Firstly, it is obvious that the these dates are characterised by mixed feelings – Germany had been on the wrong side, the NS-regime had made itself guilty of atrocities, war crimes and unnecessary mass destruction. This cannot be celebrated with joy. Yet, already a decade a ago the late Federal President von Weiszäcker declared that also Germans should consider the end of the war as liberation – the end of a terror regime and the beginning of the new era. This message was radical at the time he spoke these words, but now it seems to be generally accepted.

The current Federal president Gauck has taken one step further in emphasising that all allies – both Western and the Soviets – were involved in the liberation of Germans. When saying this, he takes into account that many Germans have bad experiences of the Soviets as occupational power and are reluctant to use the word ‘liberation’ when speaking of the Soviets. Gauck himself knows this very well – his father was a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union and it took long years before these POWs (or the remaining ones) were released. Yet, Gauck has drawn attention to the fact that the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war in Germany was far worse – in this context he uses the word ‘war crime’. Acknowledging this is to him the starting point of true reconciliation and getting over to new era.

This message it is being multiplied in the way in which the German leading politicians participate in events that commemorate the liberation of the former concentration camps. It is a matter of honour for the present date political leaders to pay their respect to the victims and to declare their solidarity to the survivors.

 2. The memory of war crimes and of the blind faith on the NS-regime

In this spirit the German TV and radio programs are overwhelmed with historical documents and commentaries that reflect on the dark chapter of the German history. These report very thoroughly of the sad history of the war years and in particular of the last months of the war. In particular they make use of the film material produced by British and American camera teams. Thus, we get a picture of meaningless fanaticism as well as of the slow collapse of militarism. We get insights into the work of exiled German and Austrian Jews who now returned as American specialists (psychologists and social researchers) examining, how and why ordinary Germans felt so tied with the old regime. In the same way we see the old documents that showed how ordinary Germans were confronted with the terrible scenes that they experienced in the liberated concentration camps. All this is analysed by present date German historians and other specialists who want to give reflected insights into events, circumstances and the mindsets of people.

 3. The post-war reconciliation and the present date

The documents have not only covered the final events of the war but the also the shocking experience of the end of the war – die Stunde Null, the moment when time ceased to pass on. They give a picture on the loss of orientation and the struggle of mere survival when the society had collapsed. And they give a picture on the difficult relations between the civilians and the new occupation powers – in different respects.

But the documents also give insights into the newly emerging societal structures and to the tensions between the allied powers. And in this constellation the support for the reconstruction in West Germany becomes a strategic approach in the Cold War between the opposed military blocks. And in this spirit the recently filmed documents on the atrocities are filed into archives. Also, some specialists from secret services, military and police forces (in spite of their dark past) become useful for the new regimes (and not only in West Germany). This all is being reflected and remembered.

In the present-date circumstances – when the era of Cold War has been left behind – this all serves the purpose of presenting Germans as ones who have learned their lessons and who want to speak for reconciliation. Yet, they do not want to push themselves or to instrumentalise the anniversaries in any way. In this respect the German Chancellor Merkel and the Foreign Minister Steinmeier have chosen their dates to visit Russia – not during military parades but during days of mourning and peaceful rethinking.

I think this is enough of the historical anniversaries. It is time to get back to the working issues of our ongoing project.

More blogs to come …

1st of May 2015 – Part Two: Historical anniversaries

May 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I had indicated in my previous post, I am writing a series of posts with focus on the First of May. In the first post I discussed the tradition of First of May demonstrations and described the event in Bremen. In this post I will discuss some historical anniversaries that have to some extent overshadowed the First of May in 2015.

1. The massacres/genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915

Shortly before the First of May there was a lot of discussion on the 100th anniversary of the tragedy of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the World War I. It is known to all that a major part of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was destroyed due to organized deportations and massacres. Up to this date the Turkish government refuses to accept that thus mass destruction was intentional. Instead, their version is that the Armenians were involved in rebellions and got killed in armed conflicts. Most European countries and the European parliament have considered that this mass destruction had been a well-organised operation that altogether aimed to destroy the Armenian minority. Therefore, they have used the expression ‘genocide’.

For the German government this has been a sensitive issue – partly because Germans were allies of the Ottoman Empire, partly because of their own dark history during the NS-regime and partly because they want to serve as mediators in present-date conflicts. However, in the ecumenic service to commemorate the 100th anniversary the Federal President Gauck (former civil right activist from DDR) used the word genocide. And the next day in the special session the president of the Federal Parliament Lammert used the same words. And finally the resolution of the parliament used this wording as well.

 2. The Carnation Revolution in Portugal 1974

During the same days we experienced the 41st anniversary of the Carnation Revolution of Portugal. This event has not been so strongly present in the German media (neither last year nor this year). However, in my memory it was one of the strong experiences for the students of the 1970s. At that time young army officers who had served a right-wing dictatorship started a revolution to stop a colonial war and got a massive support. The symbols of this support were the carnations on the weapons of the soldiers. This uprising and the following revolutionary transformation served as an example of a possibility to put an end to a dictatorship and colonial wars and to start a new course to democracy. Since then Portugal has gone a long way and experienced both successes and disappointments when looking back at the ideals of the carnation revolution. Yet, the great changes have been irreversible.

3. The end of Vietnam War 1975

And immediately after the previous one came the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. This event was at its time the symbol of a struggle of a small nation against former colonisers, occupation powers, neo-colonial partition and new invasion. This struggle became known via media and the documents gave rise to worldwide international solidarity. The end of the war was greeted as a great achievement of the Vietnamese people and as a lesson to those who wanted to push a post-colonial regime upon them. Shortly after the news from Portugal this was a greater sign of the winds of change that were blowing at that time.

It was paradoxical that the wave of international solidarity – that was so strong during the years of war – so easily faded away. The economic and social problems of Vietnam during the reconstruction period, unsettled issues with the US government, problems with the neighbouring terror regime of Cambodia (and its supporter China), internal problems within the civil society … All this became complicated and could not fit into a simplistic that only saw heroes and villains. Yet, the history of the reconstruction and recovery of Vietnam has shown us that this people has worked its way forward and deserves all the respect of the international community. And many of the historical document films shown by the German TV channels have conveyed this message.

I think this is enough of these historical anniversaries. In my next posts I will discuss yet another historical anniversary – the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II.


More blogs to come …

1st of May 2015 – Part One: First of May demonstration in Bremen

May 4th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

I have named this blog as “Working and Learning” and chosen to focus on that theme – in many respects. I am writing mainly on research & development projects in vocational and workplace learning. And I am discussing lessons learned in the project work in which I have been involved. Only on rare occasions I have taken up other issues. Now, to me the 1st of May 2015 gives rise to several blog posts – starting from the event itself.

1. First of May as an event of trade unions and workers’ movement

As we know it from the history, the tradition to celebrate the First of May as workers’ day emerges from the struggle of trade unions for the 8-hour working day. Now, the trade unions and the political parties of workers’ movement had already the 125th anniversary to celebrate. In Germany (as in many other European countries) the day has already long ago been established as a national holiday. And moreover, the strong trade unions have become the main organisers of the First of May demonstrations.

In this spirit the central organization of the German trade unions (DGB) had agreed on a common theme for all the demonstrations in Germany: “Future of work – we are the ones to shape it!” For us in ITB that reminded us of several earlier R&D programs of 1980s and 1990s like “Humanisation of Work” or “Social shaping of Work & Technology”. They were brought on the political agenda by the trade unions and they had put a strong emphasis on workers’ participation in developmental initiatives. The key point was on social shaping of work processes, organisation of work and the social implications of the new technologies. These earlier programs were characterized by optimistic expectations on social innovations and on the contribution of research. Now, the trade unions were very concerned of the newest developments in working life.

2. Observations on the First of May demonstration in Bremen

In the light of the above (and given that we had a public holiday) I once again attended the First of May demonstration – making observations on the participants, the issues taken up and on the atmosphere. Here some remarks on what caught my attention:

a) Trade unions concerned on recent development of industrial relations

As has been indicated above, the trade unions had raised the issue of future-oriented shaping of working life with severe concerns. At the moment there were several unsettled conflicts on trades and tariffs, including the issues on trade unions’ rights. Some of the speakers have characterized the current situation as a struggle between ‘humanisation’ vs. amazonisation of working life.’ These issues were strongly present in the demonstration and in the speeches.

b) The forthcoming elections in Bremen

As has been the case fore some time, the trade unions are the key players in organising these events and the political parties are accompanying supporters. However, during election campaigns the politicians and political parties may gain more attention. Yet, the forthcoming regional elections (10th of May) did not overshadow the event to great extent. The social democrats, left party and green party were there as usual – and the Mayor of Bremen was in the front row. But the elections were not such a hot topic. At best, the young voters were encouraged to make use of their voting rights.

c) The presence of ethnic and cultural minorities

As I had observed on earlier occasions, several communities of ethnic and cultural minorities with their own political agenda were usually present in the demonstrations. This time in particular the Alevite community of Bremen as well as the political groups of Turkish Kurds were strongly present. Given the current conflicts in their original home regions, their presence was noticed and their appeals for international solidarity were listened to.

I think this is enough of the event itself. In my next posts I will discuss some historical anniversaries that have overshadowed the weeks before and after the First of May.

More blogs to come …

Opening of “Learning Exhibition” in Verden – Part 2: The use of digital media and web tools

April 29th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I reported on the opening event of the ‘Learning Exhibition’ “nachhaltig. bauen. erleben” and its importance for the EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). This event – the inauguration of the new ecological building and the opening of the inaugural exhibition is clearly a highlight for our application partners Agentur, NNB and NZNB in Verden.  In the previous post I summarised some first impressions of the Learning Layers team that contributed to the exhibition. Now that some of our photos are available as photo albums in our Facebook group Learning Layers Photos, it is possible to make further comments on the way that the exhibition has implemented the design ideas of the Learning Layers project (in particular of the Captus design team).

1. What was the design team Captus looking for?

As I already mentioned in my previous post, one of the early design ideas of the Learning Layers project was called “Captus” – Capturing of knowledge and experiences with the help of digital media and web tools. This design idea and the design team that worked with it took the the ‘Learning Exhibition’ as their focal point.

The contributors from the project worked with the question: How can the use of digital media, web resources and mobile devices best be incorporated into the exhibition?

For the organisers the key question was rather: How can the exhibition be shaped as an experienceable learning opportunity (Gelegenheit for erfahrbares Lernen)?

For the LL project the key question was: How can we get these two perspectives joined together?

This gave rise to different learning exercises with web tools, webinars, video production and annotation sessions. Also different explorations were made on the use of QR-tags and alternative solutions. Finally, these efforts culminated to the questions:

1) How can we support the participants in getting more knowledge and insights into the exhibits/exhibition areas than is possible by posters, info sheets ans flyers?

2) How can we provide opportunities for such knowledge acquisition that makes it possible for the participants to take their new knowledge with them for further reflection?

These questions brought into picture the efforts to introduce augmented reality as an integral part of the exhibition concept.

2. What did we witness as ‘ideas put into practice’ in the exhibition?

At best we can demonstrate the impact of the Captus ideas with a ‘guided tour round the exhibition’ via the photos that we have uploaded in the album “The ‘Learning exhibition’ “Nachhaltig. bauen. erleben” of our application partners Agentur, NNB, NZNB (ecological construction work)“.

We see firstly the welcome message (here a screenshot) of the web page that is available on the tablets used in the exhibition. The users can indicate their interests as ordinary visitors, construction sector specialists, construction companies or their clients.  Each of them can make their own ‘guided’ tour with the help of the AR application used on the tablet.

Secondly we see the exhibition area for heating and cooling (basement ambiente) and for furnishing and wood materials (wider area). Both areas have hot spots for using AR.

Thirdly we see the use of the tablet at those hot spots and the additional text-based or picture-based information that appears on the screen.

Finally we see the instructions, how to take this information home and how to access it from home offices.

As we see it, this may appear as rather simplistic way of implementing the ideas that were discussed. But, what makes it important, in this way the ideas of using digital media, web tools and mobile technologies have become integral parts of the exhibition concept. Moreover, the key organisers have taken this as their starting point to work further with this approach. And finally, we saw that the exhibition is still in many ways under construction. From this perspective the tools, system solutions and software solutions that are being piloted in Bau-ABC could also be demonstrated as parts of the exhibition (when the time is ripe for this step). At least we saw this as an entry point to a new phase rather than as a final station of completed journey.

More blogs to come …

PS. With this blog I have worked with Joanna Burchert who has been most intensively working with the Captus idea from the ITB team. I have listened to her views and taken on board as much as possible but the words are mine. PK

Opening of “Learning Exhibition” in Verden – Part 1: First impressions

April 26th, 2015 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday we witnessed a great day for the EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL) and its work in the North German construction pilots. Our application partner Agentur für nachhaltiges Bauen (Agency for ecological construction work) and the support organisations Netzwerk Nachhaltiges Bauen (NNB) and  Norddeutsches Zentrum für Nachhaltiges Bauen (NZNB) had reached an important milestone of their project activities. Their new  Exhibition building was inaugurated and the Learning Exhibition “nachhaltig. bauen. erleben” was opened. The preparation of this exhibition has been the central theme of the colleagues from Agentur, NNB and NZNB throughout their participation in the LL project.

1. The journey from an early design idea to making the exhibition

As we remember it, the idea to prepare a special exhibition – with emphasis on learning from experience – was highlighted by the colleagues from Agentur, NNB and NZNB during the first working meetings (December 2012) and the Application Partner Day (APD) visit (January 2013). At that time the construction work for the new building was at an early stage and there was quite some time to develop plans for the exhibition. In the Y1 Design Conference in Helsinki one of the working groups brought these early thoughts into concept with the design idea “Captus” – Capturing of knowledge and experiences with the help of digital media and web tools. At that stage it was clear that it is not an easy road forward to put those ideas into practice.

Already the first encounters and the working groups during the APD visit brought into picture that there was a lot of scepticism and reservation vis-à-vis introduction of digital media, web tools and mobile technologies among the people who were interested in ecological construction work. And the key persons working for Agentur, NNB and NZNB were not quite sure, how the use of new media, web tools and mobile devices could best support their ecological message and ideas on the exhibition. During the next phases of project work several exercises were made to bring the new media, use of web tools and trials with mobile devices closer to the everyday practice. This phase was characterised by various learning experiences but uncertainty, whether the learning gains can be put into practice. It was a question mark, to what extent a trans-national R&D project can support the making of the exhibition in the local environment and for the local/regional and national audiences.

2. Impressions on the exhibition as a materialised reality

Jumping to the impressions of yesterday I have to confess that it was a kind of positive cultural shock – the new building with sveral storeys for offices and with the wide exhibition spaces on ground floor and basement made a huge difference to the past. Also, the exhibits representing different aspects of ecological, sustainable and energy-saving solutions were presented nicely and with smart anc compressed green information sheets. Also, a lot of materials and artefacts were made easily accessible in small spaces – including the isolation materials (compressed straw to be covered with clay).

What about the role of digital media, web tools and mobile or embedded devices? They were also there and implemented in a harmonious way. Several info sheets had camera symbols or QR tags that provided access to background information or light-weight applications of augmented reality. And at different areas we saw embedded computer screens on the wall or on the table surface – all this implemented as a part of the exhibition experience, not something added on. Some of these impressions have been made accessible via the updated website whilst more information is yet to be updated after the event.

Looking at other visitors, it was obvious that everything was new to them and it was difficult to digest the new experience. A lot of visitors were moving around in bigger groups, guided by the organisers, whilst some others were making impressions as individual observers. It was clear to us that the time for more focused stakeholder talks will come later when the exhibition will be visited by groups from organisations like Bau-ABC or from networks that are affiliated with the NZNB.

3. Voices of the key organisers

For us from the LL team participating in a visitor (and co-exhibitor) role – Joanna Burchert and me (ITB) and Martina Lübbing (Pontydysgu) it was most rewarding to make interviews with the key organisers – Dorothee Mix and Ute Gieseking (NZNB), Enno Precht and Michael Burchert (Agentur). All of them were highly positive about their participation in the LL project and valued the ideas and learning experiences made with the project. At the same time the others praised Michael for his role as a change agent, mediator and interpreter. Altogether, they one by one characterised their own learning history with digital media, web and mobile technologies as a transition from scepticism to a new awareness, how link this support to their own practice. Given this background, Michael was sure that this was not the end station of such transition process. Instead, now that the exhibition is there, the LL project has a good opportunity to bring in new solutions, frameworks, tools and apps once they have reached the maturity. In particular the cooperation with Bau-ABC can be strengthened in this respect.

I think this is enough of the first impressions. I have agreed to work with Joanna Burchert to give a more detailed picture, what all had been achieved regarding the introduction of digital media, web tools and software solutions. So, the story goes on.

More blogs to come …


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    Sounds of the Bazaar LIVE from the Online EDUCA Berlin 2014

    We will broadcast from Berlin on the 4th and the 5th of December. Both times it will start at 11.15 CET and will go on for about 30 minutes.

    Go here to listen to the radio stream: SoB Online EDUCA 2014 LIVE Radio.

    News Bites

    Online Educa Berlin

    Are you going to Online Educa Berlin 2014. As usual we will be there, with Sounds of the Bazaar, our internet radio station, broadcasting live from the Marlene bar on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 December. And as always, we are looking for people who would like to come on the programme. Tell us about your research or your project. tell us about cool new ideas and apps for learning. Or just come and blow off steam about something you feel strongly about. If you would like to pre-book a slot on the radio email graham10 [at] mac [dot] com telling us what you would like to talk about.


    Diana Laurillard, Chair of ALT, has invited contributions to a consultation on education technology to provide input to ETAG, the Education Technology Action Group, which was set up in England in February 2014 by three ministers: Michael Gove, Matthew Hancock and David Willetts.

    The deadline for contributions is 23 June at

    Social Tech Guide

    The Nominet Trust have announced their new look Social Tech Guide.

    The Social Tech Guide first launched last year, initially as a home to the 2013 Nominet Trust 100 – which they describe as a list of 100 inspiring digital projects tackling the world’s most pressing social issues.

    In  a press relase they say: “With so many social tech ventures out there supporting people and enforcing positive change on a daily basis, we wanted to create a comprehensive resource that allows us to celebrate and learn from the pioneers using digital technology to make a real difference to millions of lives.

    The Social Tech Guide now hosts a collection of 100’s of social tech projects from around the world tackling everything from health issues in Africa to corruption in Asia. You can find out about projects that have emerged out of disaster to ones that use data to build active and cohesive communities. In fact, through the new search and filter functionality on the site, you should find it quick and easy to immerse yourself in an inspiring array of social tech innovations.”

    Code Academy expands

    The New York-based Codecademy has translated its  learn-to-code platform into three new languages today and formalized partnerships in five countries.

    So if you speak French, Spanish or Portuguese, you can now access the Codecademy site and study all of its resources in your native language.

    Codecademy teamed up with Libraries Without Borders (Bibliotheques sans Frontieres) to tackle the French translation and is now working on pilot programs that should reduce unemployment and bring programming into schools. In addition, Codecademy will be weaving its platform into Ideas Box, a humanitarian project that helps people in refugee camps and disaster zones to learn new skills. Zach Sims, CEO of Codecademy, says grants from the public and private sector in France made this collaboration possible.

    The Portuguese translation was handled in partnership with The Lemann Foundation, one of the largest education foundations in Brazil. As with France, Codecademy is planning several pilots to help Brazilian speakers learn new skills. Meanwhile in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the company has been working closely with the local government on a Spanish version of its popular site.

    Codecademy is also linking up up with the Tiger Leap program in Estonia, with the aim of teaching every school student how to program.

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