Archive for the ‘workinglearning’ Category

Wrapping up the ECER 2017 experience – Part Five: Discussions on multi-methodological approaches in VET research

August 31st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my four previous posts  I have been shaping a series of blogs reporting on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2017) that took place last week in Copenhagen. The first post outlined an agenda of themes to be covered. The second post provided insights into my own presentation. The third post discussed the themes ‘qualification frameworks’ and ‘credit transfer’. The fourth post discussed reforms in vocational teacher education and issues related to practicum studies of teacher candidates. In this fifth post I will report on a special research workshop that discussed ‘multi-methodological strategies and theory-diverse approaches’ as an effort to overcome theoretical and methodological diving lines. Below I will give a brief overview on the invited presentations and them add my comments (that I also delivered as a participant’s reaction in the session).

Invited contributions on ‘multi-methodological strategies’ and ‘theory-diverse approaches’

The idea to discuss possible ways to develop ‘multi-methodological’ approaches and to overcome theoretical and methodological dividing lines has been coming up some time. In the Stockholm International VET Conference Lazaro Moreno gave a presentation in which he paved the way for such workshops in the forthcoming conferences. To me, this session was the first step to implement the plan. The invited speakers presented their ideas on such ‘boundary-crossing’ approaches or potentials in their research contexts:

  • Petri Nokelainen from Finland started with a example from a quantitative study, in which the first phase of analyses was based on configuration frequency analyses. In the next phase the analyses moved into ‘data mining’ (with the help of a special software based on algorithms). Here Petri demonstrated an example of crossing a methodological boundary that was also overshadowed by cultural barriers.
  • Haege Nore from Norway presented an exemplary research context in which the theme was in the phase of making methodological choices. The study – commissioned by the Norwegian educational authorities – was focusing on the final examinations of apprentices. Here, Haege outlined a gallery of research perspectives that could be relevant for studying this theme. Then she indicated the policy-related priorities of the educational authorities. Yet, there was room for discussion on, what kind of complementary views could be taken on board in the methodological concept to avoid a too narrow approach.
  • Michael Gessler from ITB presented three exemplary studies as examples of perspective transformation, in which the role of theoretical starting points and methodologies is to be reflected in the light of the societal relevance of the studies. In an international conference the most striking questions were related to the transferability of the German dual system to foreign countries and to cooperation between learning venues (Lernortkooperation) in a North-German region. In the study on the transferability Michael and his project theme distanced themselves from the academic debate, whether transfer across different VET systems and cultures is possible. Instead, they focused on an empirical and historical question, how cultural transfer or transformation has been possible and what manifestations can be found. In the study on Lernortkooperation he shifted the question from attitudes to cooperation into identifying actual manifestations of cooperation (and on the level of intensity).
  • Christof Nägele from Switzerland discussed the prospects of developing longitudinal studies and experimental/intervention studies. In the first context he drew attention to the potentials of configuration frequency analyses and of multi-cohort sequence designs. In the second context he discussed the need of multiple reflection opportunities in experimental/intervention studies (and the necessity to have a proper control group). Finally, he discussed the issue of theory as a ‘Procrustes bed’ or as a tool for interpretation when studying transitions during learning careers.
  • Lazaro Moreno and his colleagues from Sweden had started to study the role of practical learning in the obligatory school as a foundation for choices whether to opt for a vocational learning pathway. In this respect the team had explored the history of the paradigmatic woodworking subject ‘slöjd’ (anglicized as ‘slojd’). Here, the interest was not only on the curricular history but to get informed of the teaching-learning processes as lived practice.
  • Finally, based on various individual contributions, Christof Nägele, Barbara E. Stalder and Michael Gessler had started to outline a common European VET Research Agenda (taking into account the role that the VETNET network is playing at the European Skills Week organised by the European Commission. (We need to discuss this interesting initiative at a later date.)

Reflections on prior discussions of the VETNET network on core concepts/approaches in European VET research

To me this session was of particular interest, since I could see it as a sequel to similar symposia in the early years of VETNET. In ECER 1997 in Frankfurt I had initiated a symposium to discuss core concepts and discipline structures in European VET-related research. In the symposium we had my introductory presentation and inputs from Gerald Heidegger (then ITB, Bremen) and Michael Young (Institute of Education, London). Without going into details I can summarise the common conclusion. We agreed on the interpretation that we have three somewhat different interpretations on European research in the field of VET:

  • VET as multidisciplinary area of research: According to this interpretation VET is primarily a common area of research that can be approached from different research disciplines. Thus, the field of VET does not necessarily provide a basis for specialised disciplines but can be seen as a research area for shared interests and exchanges.
  • VET research as a field for specialised interdisciplinary studies: According to this interpretation the specialisation on VET tends to generate interdisciplinary approaches to cover complex challenges in the development of VET (policies, systems, institutions and practices). Based on such development there are specialised institutes with interdisciplinary agendas for VET research (and with commitment to support VET development).
  • Pedagogics of VET as a set of  research disciplines with transdisciplinary characteristics: According to this interpretation the professionalisation of teachers and trainers in VET requires a set of research disciplines to support the pedagogic, organisational end societal development of VET. The shaping of such research disciplines is linked to the university curricula for VET professionals and related doctoral studies.

This rough generalisation provided the basis for co-habitation, mutual exchanges and co-development of the VETNET network during its early years. Also, in the same ECER conference in Frankfurt we had a triple symposium with the heading “Towards a European VET research agenda”. This was based on contributions from different thematic groups of the Forum network (“Forum for interdisciplinary research on vocational education, training and learning”). However, these contributions could at best be seen as a gallery of themes brought together by an emerging network within the VETNET community.

Looking back at that phase of the development of a European VET research community and comparing the earlier discussions (of 1997) with the ones in the current workshop (2017) I can see that the VETNET community has clearly reached a level of maturity. In the current situation there is no tendency towards particularisation or fragmentation (whether on theoretical or methodological grounds). Instead, the workshop was inspired by common interests to promote theoretical and methodological enrichment of VET research – with an emphasis on enhancing its societal relevance. Of course, the workshop was based on rather brief inputs that outlined the respective approaches. Nevertheless, they opened prospects for further steps in learning from each other.

– – –

I guess this is enough of this workshop in Copenhagen (2017) and of the reflections on its early predecessor in Frankfurt (1997). Surely this kind of discussion will be continued in the future conferences. Now, concerning the reporting on the ECER 2017, I will conclude this series with reflections on the joint VETNET activities and on the VETNET community.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

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

August 29th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The development of VET teacher pedagogy through practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and regarding ECER conferences

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

– – –

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

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2017 experience – Part Three: Discussions on common qualification frameworks and credit transfer systems

August 29th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two previous blogs I have started a series to report on my experiences at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2017) that took place last week in Copenhagen. With my first post I presented a thematic overview (and working agenda) on reports to come. In the second post I gave insights to my own presentation on the role of “Begleitforschung” (Accompanying research) in the Learning Layers project. With this third post I will make remarks on sessions that discussed national/international qualification frameworks and trans-national credit transfer systems. Here I do not try to cover entire sessions (which may have had several themes under a ‘common’ umbrella). Instead, I try to make transparent some red threads that I could follow across similar sessions and presentations.

The rocky road to qualification frameworks … and looking how they work

Before I start my reporting on the contributions to this theme in ECER 2017, I prefer to share some memories of ECER conferences about ten years ago. In ECER 2015 one of the highlights was the contribution of a large consortium of researchers discussing a policy study – the “Maastricht study” on the attainment of the goals of the Lisbon study. This discussion was informative, analytical and critical as well. It raised several themes to be followed. Yet, there was no direct follow-up. Instead, in the next conferences until 2009 major emphasis was given on the making and functioning (?) of the European Qualification Framework (EQF). This discussion was polarised between fundamental critique and interim reports from the EQF-processes. The tensions in these debates were put into concept with the metaphor “The Holy Trinity” referring to three functions that the EQF tries to fulfill without achieving any of them.

In the light of the above presented experiences it was interesting to see, how the discussion on qualification frameworks was brought back – now from a wider international perspective. Stephanie Allais from South Africa had worked in an international study that had analysed the making of national or trans-national qualification frameworks in different global regions. She had been involved in an earlier study and now there was a follow-up phase. Here I cannot go into details of her presentation. My impression was that in many cases making of the framework was characterised by writing existing structures and educational practices into the given format – instead of rethinking and reshaping them. In this respect the frameworks hardly fulfilled the function of policy development or transfer of innovation. Therefore, it was appropriate to discuss, whether the introduction of such frameworks has been mostly useful or useless but harmless or downright counterproductive regarding the development of educational practices.

In another session Stephanie presented a picture on the development of VET in three African countries – South Africa, Ethiopia and Ghana – with an emphasis to highlight the current developments at the level of educational practices. Furthermore, in her presentation Christiane Eberhardt discussed the differences between the German approach to recognition of prior learning v.s. the Australian approach to allow ‘skilled migration’ as precondition for visa.

To package circles into squares with credit transfer instruments … and how to do it in a smart way

Another session, managed by Sandra Bohlinger and her project team, brought into picture the work with credit transfer instruments. The presentations and the underlying two projects focused on healthcare sector – as a particularly interesting field from the perspective of European/international mobility. This was highlighted by the project team and in addition by the European policy expert Torsten Dunkel who reported on recent policy developments.

Here I need to remind us, how the theme ‘credit transfer’ was discussed in VETNET about ten years ago. Whilst the making of qualification frameworks was perceived as a push towards atomisation and fragmentation of holistic VET cultures, the role of credit transfer was perceived in a different light. Obviously, also in that exercise the risk of atomisation was there. But yet, the pioneer projects with the model VQTS tried to substantiate the credit transfer process by analysing work tasks and the development from novice to expert. Here the slogan was ‘putting Dreyfus to work’ (with reference to the well-known work of Dreyfus & Dreyfus).

In the light of this background it was interesting to see, how the newer projects had positioned themselves and what kind of tools (including both pedagogic and digital tools) they were developing. Here I will not try to present the contributions of individual presenters. Instead, it is worthwhile to mention that it took us some time to get an appropriate picture on the (limited) ambitions of the project. There was a risk to interpret their work as preparation for atomistic curricula – instead of tools for light-weight credit transfer procedures. And here, it was easy to get a false impression that the tools would be intended for costly and time-consuming (and commercialised) recognition processes. From this perspective the project team gave us the necessary clarification and we could focus on their real achievements.

– – –

I guess this is enough of these themes. The presentations of ECER 2017 will be published on the Vetnetsite, see the section 2017 Copenhagen Presentations. Background information on the discussion on these themes in the previous ECER conferences is available in my blog articles on the Vetnetsite (see

My journey with the VETNET network – Insights into the evolution of European vocational education and training research: The years of stabilisation of the VETNET community 2001 – 2006 (Part 3)

and

My journey with the VETNET network – Insights into the evolution of European vocational education and training research: The years of consolidation 2007 – 2011 (Part 4).

In my next post I will focus on studies and presentations that discuss vocational teacher education.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2017 experience – Part Two: My reflections on Accompanying Research in the Learning Layers project

August 28th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started a series of posts to wrap up my experiences in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2017) that took place last week in Copenhagen. I presented a thematic overview and a working agenda to explore different aspects that came up in the sessions I attended. With this post I give insights into my own presentation.

Background, work plan and modification of the plan

This year all my conference presentations focus on revisiting and reconceptualising our experience with the Learning Layers project and its Construction pilot. In particular I want to highlight the particular role of our “Begleitforschung” (Accompanying research) approach in the complex projects. Initially I had planned to write three parallel research papers and to present them in three successive conferences (see my post of April “Revisiting the Learning Layers experience – A “ToDo List” for forthcoming conferences“). I could partly implement it by preparing the first paper for the Stockholm International VET Conference in May – with emphasis on Accompanying research as promoter of action-oriented learning (Handlungsorientiertes Lernen). Then, I could prepare a second paper that I intended to present in the Rostock International VET Conference one week before the ECER. In this paper the main emphasis was given on revisiting the theme ‘work process knowledge’ and linking it to newer innovation agendas – in particular to “Industry 4.0”. However, then – due to intervening factors – I neither had the chance to present this paper in Rostock nor to prepare a third paper for ECER. Thus, I had to postpone my work with the methodological development of Accompanying research in the Learning Layers project (compared with prior approaches in pilot projects and innovation programmes).

Looking back at Learning Layers project – and forward to the follow-up

As has been the case with some other presentations, I had to give some background information, how the Learning Layers project was shaped and how the two sectoral pilots (in Healthcare and Construction) worked. Then I had to give insights into the change in the design idea – from digitising learning resources to shaping of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and to different iterations. Finally, I had to to draw attention to the complementary relations between co-design workshops, multimedia training and pilot testing with digital tools. Mostly, these activities were carried out in the training centre Bau-ABC of the North-German construction industries and trades. Here, the key achievement was the introduction of the LTB as a digital toolset to support (trade-specific) training and learning in Bau-ABC.

But I also managed to give insights into the follow-up activities that promote company-specific applications of the LTB (as contributions to overarching management of work-related knowledge processes) and similar uses of LTB in continuing vocational training (as support for integrative curriculum development and learning approaches). In addition, one follow-up process is shaping integrative approaches to ‘health and safety’  in construction sector. All these processes are taking further steps to reach real work contexts and users in work organisations.

Revisiting the theme ‘work process knowledge’ and analysing old and new innovation agendas

In the light of the above it was worthwhile recapitulating, what we had learned from studying the legacy of the “Work process knowledge network” of the years 1997 -2004. In particular it was important to compare the views on the role of VET and informal learning in promoting the acquisition of work process knowledge. Furthermore, it was important to take on board the recent analyses on three generations of innovation programmes in working life (‘Humanisation of work’, ‘Learning organisations’ and ‘Industry 4.0’). With the emerging innovation agenda ‘Industry 4.0’ I explored the recent analyses of German sociologists and educationalists on the general frontiers in the debates (techno-centric v.s. socio-technical approaches) and efforts to develop spaces and facilities for learning within work processes or to shape complementary learning spaces.

– – –

I think this is enough for a brief introduction. The long version of my paper is available on ResearchGate (see ‘Begleitforschung’ as contributor to digitisation in vocational education and training (VET) for construction sector – Linking ‘work process knowledge’ to ‘Industry 4.0’. The short version will be published in the proceedings of the Rostock conference (see the forthcoming conference proceedings). And my PowerPoint presentation will be published on the website of the VETNET network (see the Vetnetsite/2017 Copenhagen Presentations).

Concerning the feedback that I got, I note that the issue ‘scientific status of accompanying research’ has been discussed recently when the research work of the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training (BIBB) in Germany has been evaluated. Indeed, I need to continue my work with this theme and inform myself the points made in this evaluation.

In my next posts I will discuss some key themes that were discussed in several sessions.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2017 experience – Part One: Thematic overview

August 28th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I already made some remarks on the circumstances that overshadowed my participation in ECER 2017 and on my plans to report on the experience on the VETNET sessions. Yet, I think it is better that I provide a thematic overview – or a working agenda – for my forthcoming blogs. With each of the themes to be covered I have also different role positions and interests of knowledge that need to be taken into account.

For the moment I see the need to report on the following themes:

  • My own presentation on “Begleitforschung” (Accompanying research) in the context of the Learning Layers project and in the follow-up of its construction pilot;
  • Issues on European/national qualification frameworks and in studies on credit transfer – in current projects and in the VETNET sessions of the past;
  • Issues on vocational teacher education and on the role of practice-based learning (= practicum) phases – in current contexts and as topics of our previous European projects;
  • Discussions on ‘multi-methodological practices’ and perspective transformations in research on vocational education and training (VET) – in the light of current studies and earlier (implicit) agreements on European VET research (within the VETNET community);
  • Updates on recent news and developments in the VETNET community.

I guess these are the key themes that I need to cover – and at the same time revisit my own experience as a presenter, session chair or active participant in the discussion.

More blogs to come …

Insights into ECER 2017 – Back to the ECER

August 27th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I indicated in my previous post, I had a longer summer break than I had planned. Therefore, I had to change my conference plans. I had to cancel my participation in the International VET conference “Crossing Boundaries in VET” because of clashes with an important event elsewhere. And I had to travel to the European Conference on Educational  Research (ECER 2017)  directly from Finland instead of having started my work in Bremen.

This year my participation in ECER was a kind of ‘return of the oldie’ since I had to skip the ECER 2016 in Dublin due to health issues. Luckily enough, the health issues were not in the picture and I could give a full contribution as a session chair (in four sessions) and as a presenter (one individual paper presentation). The above mentioned intervening factors caused a change in my plans regarding the content of my presentation. As I had to skip the conference in Rostock, I could now use that paper for my presentation in ECER. The topic that I originally had in my mind for ECER is on my list as an urgent task after I return to work.

In my forthcoming blogs I will give insights into my own presentation and into themes that were covered in the sessions that I chaired and/or attended as a participant. Furthermore, I will present latest news on the VETNET network for European research in vocational education and training.

More blogs to come …

Back to work – Back to my blog

August 26th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

This year my summer break has been longer than I expected. I had anticipated that I could start working from my Finnish home base already at the beginning of August and that I would have returned to Bremen in the middle of the month. All that changed due to very sad intervening factors (which I do not want to discuss here). The consequence was that I had to take more time for myself and postpone my work plans until I am ready for them.

This week Ihave participated in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2017) in Copenhagen. I came directly from Finland and jumped into an intensive conference program. Now I am on my way back to Bremen to start my regular work – having the sad period in Finland and the inspiring conference behind. In my next blogs I will report on the highlights of the ECER 2017 and of the work of the VETNET network (European vocational education and training research network).

More blogs to come …

Working further with the Learning Toolbox – Overview on current activities in construction sector

June 16th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

After the final review of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project (see my blogs from January and February) I have tried to report on the follow-up activities in North Germany and with our partners in construction sector. In my blogs in March, April and May I have reported on ongoing projects or new initiatives in which the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) has played an important role. As these blogs have been based on particular meetings or workshops, the picture may have remained somewhat fragmentary. However, this week we have had a series of meetings with different counterparts. This has made it possible to create a group picture of ongoing activities.

Below I will report on the discussions in the three first meetings of this week in which I was present. Here it is worthwhile to note that none of these meetings was focusing only on specific uses of LTB as a dedicated tool for certain uses. Instead, all these meetings were discussing more comprehensive ecosystems of knowledge processes and software solutions (Ökosysteme für Wissensvermittlung und Software-Lösungen). In this context our counterparts were looking for different roles for LTB – as a part of an integrative software ecosystem – in promoting learning, training and workin in construction sector.

1. Bau-ABC Rostrup: New uses for LTB in continuing vocational training (CVT) and projects

In the meeting in Bau-ABC we discussed the prospects of developing an integrative software ecosystem to address course management issues, continuing quality assurance and integration of innovative pedagogic designs to regular training provisions. Here the meeting of Bau-ABC training managers, software developers (including LTB developers) and ITB researchers was partly building on the progress in the project DigiProB (see my previous post). Partly it was building on parallel planning of software solutions for course management and quality assurance. The key point was in the shaping of a software ecology that is linked to traditional data management solutions and receives the ‘mature’ results from development platforms. This would be the case with the DigiProB platform that is being used by lecturers in continuing vocational training (CVT) to create integrated project-based learning designs for CVT participants). In such a software ecology the LTB would serve as the participants interface for accessing digital contents and communication channels in such projects.

Alongside the case of the DigiProB project we discussed parallel possibilities to work further with the Bau-ABC trainers’ group that has been developing more systematic approach to the theme ‘Health and Safety’ (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz). In a similar way we discussed the possibilities to use LTB to support context-specific language learning of the Spanish apprentices (in the Mobipro-EU project) and key issues preparing them for their workplace-based training at construction sites. For these themes the Bau-ABC participants and the LTB developers presented recently created or modified LTB stacks as means to support learning in these contexts.

2.  Agentur für Nachhaltiges Bauen in Verden: New software ecosystems for construction work

In the meeting at the agency for ecological construction work (Agentur) ITB researchers and LTB developers discussed with Thomas Isselhard on the new working perspectives from their point of view (Verden-based organisations and networks focusing on ecological construction work). As we remember, the LTB-use case in which Thomas demonstrated, how he can use the LTB as means to coordinate the work process at a construction site was well received in the workshop for construction companies in September 2016. Now, based on that basic stack we were looking at newer software solutions and mobile apps that can enhance the usability of LTB by craft trade companies. In this discussion a major role was given for construction process-oriented digital tools (Datenlogger) and for possibilities to develop Building Information Modelling (BIM) solutions from the the perspective of craft trades working together. In this context Gilbert Peffer presented the work of CIMNE with portable BIMtables and BIM screens as means to support knowledge sharing during construction processes. In this discussion we could link to a similar session in our previous meeting with Bau-ABC in which we had had a presentation on BIMtable and on a digital tool package (GreenHouse Koffer) for ecological construction work of carpenters. In our discussion in Verden the key point was that the integration of tools and software should support both construction processes and further maintenance. Therefore, the tools and software solutions should take into account planners, craftsmen and clients as the users. Here it is not possible to go into details but this meeting took further steps in planning of new projects with LTB as a key element in such software ecosystem.

3. Company H.: Rethinking the software ecosystem and promoting the competences of the staff

In the third meeting ITB researchers and LTB developers were discussing with representatives of the company H. In one of my previous blogs I have given a rather detailed picture of a workshop in which we discussed the preliminary findings of a mapping tour that the colleagues had done by visiting different sites of that company. Now in this meeting the colleagues presented a draft report on work flows, support systems, eventual gaps and risk zones and their recommendations. We had a rather detailed discussion – both in terms of situation assessment and possible improvements.

Here it is not relevant to give a detailed picture of the discussion. However, at a more general level it is worthwhile to note that the company representatives were looking at a holistic ecosystem for steering work processes, supporting real-time interaction and reporting as well as enhancing knowledge sharing within the company. From the organisational and pedagogic point it was interesting that the company was interested in the potentials of LTB, both from the perspective of process optimisation as well as enhancing the learning processes of apprentices. Moreover, the company was interested in supporting free spaces for exchanges among the apprentices and for organising events to take up their ideas, concerns and wishes. However, with all these interests the company was looking for improvements that could be implemented with the agreement of the staff and with a perspective to integrate different staff members to common processes.

– – –

I guess this is enough of these meetings. For me this series of discussions was inspiring as I could observe clear steps forward on several fronts. Moreover, this experience gave me a new perspective to ‘digital transformation’. As I now see it, such transformations are not just matters of pushing new technologies upon users (or to substitute a great number of users). Neither can such transformations be characterised as equipping of users with magic tools that radically enhance their powers. Instead, the innovative tools – in order to contribute to digital transformations – have to fit into emerging ecosystems of knowledge processes, steering, sharing and reporting as well as co-design processes in which developers become aware of such requirements. In all these meetings I saw signs of such processes. I am looking forward to observe the next steps.

More blogs to come …

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

May 23rd, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

The DigiProB project – Pedagogic challenges for CVT trainers and participants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interim observations and reflections

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

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

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

– – –

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

More blogs to come …

Introducing Learning Layers tools to construction companies – Insights and working issues

May 17th, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

Once again I am taking a look at some of the follow-up activities of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in the construction sector. As I have mentioned in my earlier blogs, my ITB-colleagues and the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) have started cooperation with some German construction companies to launch company-specific pilot activities. In the first phase they agreed to start with feasibility studies. Last week the LTB developers were in Bremen and made some field visits to different sites of our partner organisations with ITB colleagues. At the end of the week we had a wrap-up meeting with one of the companies in ITB (and thus I could attend as an observer).

The approach

In the “Exploitation report” of the LL project we (in ITB) had already outlined our approach to such feasibility studies in the following way:

“Development of a framework for ‘Betriebsbezogene Analysetage’ for identifying company-specific points of intervention (for introducing tools and web resources), working interfaces (for identifying staff involved) and feedback processes (for specifying the benefits of tools etc.) to be supported with Learning Toolbox and affiliated tools and web resources.”

For me the point of interest was to learn, what kind of insights these field visits would bring into discussion regarding

  1. the use of digital media and web tools (in general) in the companies and in their trades, in particular
  2. as support for organisational and cross-organisational cooperation (specific to their trade) and
  3. as means to enhance process optimisation, learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation.

Getting an overview

Our counterpart in this discussion was the medium-sized company H. that is a major regional player in pipeline-building (Rohrleitungsbau) especially supply circuits (Versorgungsleitungen) and service pipes (Hausanschlüsse). It works together with the major electricity providers, water and gas suppliers and telephone and cable providers. Given the wide regional range of activities the company has in addition to its main office several branch offices and installation teams allocated to these offices. The company has framework contracts with its clients that include ordinary orders as well as procedures for emergency repairs. As a result, the company had adopted a ‘federative’ lean organisation that gives a lot of autonomy to the branch offices and to the teams that are working in the region. However, a major constrain for the organisation was to get the reporting of the work of the installation teams (and the clearance of ‘mission completed’) arranged in a smart way.

Given this complexity the LTB developers and my ITB colleagues carried out a series of interviews with the manager and the central IT specialist (in the central office) and with representatives of branch offices and skilled workers at different sites. With reference to the interview grid they then prepared a flow diagram that made transparent the work processes (including working interfaces), information flows (including interfaces with different forms for work orders and reporting) and points of intervention (where use of digital tools and web resources can contribute to process optimisation)

Insights and working issues

In the wrap-up meeting the representatives of the company H. discussed the preliminary findings with the LTB developers and my ITB-colleagues. Here I do not want to get into very specific details but highlight some of the main results:

a) Readiness to use digital media and web technologies: Firstly, already regarding the interaction with client organisations, there is a considerable variety between the ones that use up-to-date digital media (and web technologies) and others that rely on paper-based orders and printed reports. Inside the company the use of digital media and web technologies is generally accepted. Yet, in reporting from the field (with smartphones) there are still some teams that prefer using paper-based reporting.

 b) Multiple dependencies and a variety of digital documents: In this trade (Rohrleitungsbau) it is typical that for one installation job the company has parallel orders from an energy provider, gas provider, water supplier etc.  Typically these organisations use different software solutions, templates and forms. Also, the framework contracts include emergency repairs that need to be started without a separate order – but to be reported with yet another form. As a result the company H. has to deal with several types of digital and analogue documents that are not compatible with each other.

c) Engagement of different parts of the organisation in reporting: The installation works of the company are rather short-cycled ‘projects’ with one or two days’ duration. Yet, given the above mentioned diversity of software solutions and documents (and the varying readiness to use digital tools) there is a tendency towards duplication of reporting work at the construction site and in the office.

d) Autonomy of units/teams and knowledge sharing across the organisation: As has been mentioned, the organisational units at different branch offices – and the teams working in the field – have a great deal of autonomy. Also, their capability to find their own solutions is appreciated. The same is also the case with their way to handle the administrative reporting. However, the management is interested in encouraging knowledge sharing and exchange of experiences across the organisation. Yet, it appears that it is easier to arrange traditional training events (with frontal presentations by external experts) rather than events for shared learning within the organisation. The manager was looking for arrangements to support knowledge sharing among the skilled workers and with focus on improvements in work processes.

Working perspectives and lessons learned

The team of LTB-developers and ITB-colleagues will produce in a short while a brief report with further working perspectives and recommendations. However, already at this stage the flow diagram and the opportunity for joint reflections was appreciated – in the final meeting and during the field visits. Below I make some brief remarks, how (on the basis of the experience with the Learning Layers) the problems can be dealt with and how the organisation needs to engage itself in the next phase:

Concerning the multiple dependencies, different software solutions and document templates there is a possibility to introduce technical solutions – by introducing a company-specific database that communicates with the other kinds of documents (and manages the conversions). This requires some coordination in the central office, whilst the branches and the working teams should get their own documents, which they can at best handle. Furthermore, for the workers in the field it is possible to provide optional choices for reporting via typed documents or scanned documents (that can be converted in the central office). Such solutions would offload the administrative work from the teams and speed up the reporting for the clients. Here the manager emphasised the need to offload skilled workers from unnecessary administrative tasks. To him this would increase the attractiveness of craftsman careers.

Concerning the enhancement of learning and knowledge sharing across the organisation the experience of Learning Layers opens interesting prospects. Firstly, work process-oriented and technology-supported multimedia training can increase the readiness for knowledge sharing. Moreover, linking such training to shaping new stacks for Learning Toolbox can bring into picture practical solutions for such sharing. Here it is important to start from such tools and technologies that offload the participants from unnecessary burdens and make it possible to improve one’s contribution. Here the “Theme Room training” and the co-development of Learning Toolbox in the training centre Bau-ABC can serve as examples.

– – –

I think this is enough of our discussion in the wrap-up meeting. The LTB-developers and my ITB-colleagues will finalise their conclusions and recommendations in a short while. What strikes me in this discussion was the fact that we looked far deeper into learning in organisational contexts (and into process-optimisation in cross-organisational cooperation) than during the LL project. Moreover, it is difficult to find similar cases in the literature that we have been using. So, we have been dealing with an inspiring and challenging case. We hope that we can continue working together.

More blogs to come … 

 

 

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