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 …

Learning Layers in dialogue with DigiProB project – Part Three: Talks on the usability of Learning Layers tools

May 12th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my two previous posts I have blogged on a new phase of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. In the Construction pilot we have started cooperation with a spin-off project. The German-funded DigiProB project focuses on the training of  certified construction site managers (Geprüfte Polier) – see more on this training and on the background of the project in my two previous posts. In this post I will have a look at the discussions between the technical partners of both projects on the usability of the Learning Layers tools in the new context. But firstly, I need to recapitulate, what kind of change of perspective is taking place in the transition from the LL project to the spin-off project.

Changing the perspective from apprentice training to continuing vocational training (CVT)

So far the pilot activities of LL project in the training centre Bau-ABC have focused on initial vocational education and training (VET).  Thus, the LL project has worked with apprentices and full-time trainers who are present in intermediate training centres (in workshops and on outdoor training areas). In such contexts and the processes instruction, tutoring and peer learning rely on the presence of a learning community.

The change of perspective to the CVT programme for certified construction site managers (Geprüfte Polier) brings into picture a completely different learning environment. The participants are former craftsmen who are in the process of transition to managerial positions. The training programme is based on a 2-month period of courses and a subsequent period of self-organised learning alongside working. In the latter phase the participants are expected to complete integrative learning tasks and to prepare a project report that demonstrate the acquisition of required coordination and management competences.

In the light of the discussions in the preparatory phase (see my first post in this series) and taking into account the messages coming through in the initial interviews (see my second post) it is possible to raise the following questions concerning the introduction of digital media, web support and mobile devices into such a training programme:

1. What can be the role of social learning platform(s) as support for integrative pedagogic approach and as support for self-organised and/or collaborative learning practices?

2. What can be the role of digital learning materials provided by guest trainers/lecturers in supporting the work with integrative learning tasks and project reports?

3. What can be the role of digital documents in facilitating the self-organised learning processes and presenting the results of project work?

4. What can be the role of mobile devices and mobile app frameworks in facilitating learning in the context of work and in sharing knowledge and experience with peer learners?

Sharing knowledge between technical partners of LL and DigiProB projects

The above presented questions were implicitly in my mind in the light of our experiences in the LL project and taking into account the shift to the new project. However, in the preparatory meeting of both projects we first explored, what kinds of tools the LL project has developed and in which contexts they have been piloted. In this discussion most attention was given on the Learning Toolbox (LTB) the integrative toolset with which Bau-ABC is making experiences in several trades. In addition, we took up in particular ‘Bits and Pieces’ (Erfahrungssammler), ‘Living documents’ and ‘Confer tool’ (for collaborative knowledge processing) as different individual tools that can be linked to each other.

Altogether, we concluded that many of the LL tools address some aspects of the R&D agenda that needs to be developed in the new project. In this respect this meeting between the two project needs to be followed up in the near future.

More blogs to come …

 

 

Learning Layers in dialogue with DigiProB project – Part Two: Interviews with guest trainers/lecturers in continuing vocational training

May 12th, 2016 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous blog I started a series on the new phase of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. Currently, in the Construction pilot we have been able to start closer cooperation  with a spin-off project. The German-funded DigiProB has started its work and the training centre Bau-ABC and the research institute ITB have a central role to play. The DigiProB project focuses on the training of  certified construction site managers (Geprüfte Polier) – see more on this training and on the background of the project in my previous post. In this post I will have a look at the initial interviews and what we may learn from the dialogue with gust trainers/lecturers who are engaged in this training programme.

The reform of the training concept and tensions in the implementation

As I indicated in the previous post, the new training of the certified construction site managers had introduced a new examination model that put an emphasis on integrative tasks and on a concluding project report. In the conceptual preparation for the project proposal we had emphasised the following tensions:

  1. The new training regulation was introduced with short introduction events that familiarised the trainers on the new guidelines. However, these events did not provide an in-depth training for guest trainers/lecturers  to adjust themselves to new requirements.
  2. The guest trainers/lecturers are engaged as subject specialists and are responsible for specific blocks in the presence training. They do not have an overarching responsibility on the supervision of integrated learning tasks and project work.
  3. There has been no clear model for developing online support, arranging peer tutoring and promoting peer learning among the participants.

Now that the DigiProB project was started, the initial interviews provided an opportunity to test, whether the above outlined picture was correct and what new features could be learned from the guest trainers/lecturers involved in the programme.

Messages picked from the initial interviews

Currently I am not actively involved in the initial activities of the DigiProB project. At best I have been nearby when my ITB colleagues have carried out interviews. Therefore, I leave it to my colleagues to report on the activities and on the findings in greater detail and in time. Yet, already at this stage it is possible to pick as ‘first impressions’ some messages that come through and have been reflected by my colleagues. Although these are only preliminary signals, not thoroughly analysed findings, it is worthwhile to pay attention to them:

  • Rapid implementation of the new model: It seems to me that both the training providers (such as Bau-ABC) and guest trainers/lecturers that they use for the training have had very little time to adjust their pedagogic approaches. The training providers arrange short introductory events but then the individual trainers/lecturers have draw the conclusions on their own.
  • Willingness of trainers/lecturers to work with an integrative pedagogic approach: Although the guest trainers/lecturers have been engaged as subject specialists, they seem to have an interest in getting their special know-how put into practice. Therefore, they are individually looking for ways to link ‘theoretical’ elements into practical tasks and exercises. Moreover, there seems to be interest in sharing experiences and examples of good pedagogic solutions.
  • Interest of trainers/lecturers in using digital media and web tools: It appears that (at least some) guest trainers/lecturers show interest in using digital media and web tools to support their teaching and training. In this respect the Learning Toolbox (whenever demonstrated) has been greeted as a promising framework and the interviewees are willing to learn more of it.
  • Interest of learners to share knowledge and experiences: According to the guest trainers/lecturers interviewed so far, the participants (learners) are interested in sharing knowledge and experiences during the course periods and during the periods for self-organised learning. In particular from this perspective they considered the Learning Toolbox as a promising toolset to support individual and collaborative learning processes.

– – –

I leave these first impressions and ‘messages picked from discussions’ here and let my colleagues work with further interviews and the group pictures that we get as a result. Altogether, I believe that the DigiProB project is well-timed and that the trainers/lecturers as well as the learners will be interested to work with the project. However, the project will also pose new challenges for the tool developers and to the project partners who introduce the tools.

More blogs to come …

 

 

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