Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Five: Debates on VET research (past, present, future)

September 9th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With this blog post I conclude a series of posts on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2019) that took place earlier last week in Hamburg, Germany. The first post focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network (including background information on VETNET and other networks). The second post focused on the sessions that discussed the ongoing TACCLE projects (in which I and my colleagues are working). The third post focused on presentations that have an immediate relevance for the TACCLE project. The fourth post gave an account on recent developments in the VETNET network. With this final post I give insights into debates on VET research at different phase of the development of the VET research community.

The earliest phase: From ‘who is who’ to ‘networking the networks’

In the earliest phase of the VETNET network (when the setting up of the organisational structures was moving slowly) we were in the process of finding ourselves. It appeared that we represented different academic backgrounds, institutional affiliations and research interests. Some of us were from discipline-based institutes carrying out individual research in national contexts. Some of us came from interdisciplinary and policy-linked institutes with complex research & development projects. Some of us were already at that time working primarily in European projects with comparative and/or collaborative research designs. This gave rise to different views on, what kind of research activities and results should be presented in the conferences. One of the issues was, whether we should accept only completed research projects presented final results or whether we should give room for ongoing research projects to present their way s to common approaches. Luckily enough we found a working consensus that provided a basis for mutual respect and learning from each other.

Concerning the European cooperation projects we (who were working in them or with them) tried to develop sessions that promote learning from each other. Firstly we had symposia that promoted dialogue between parallel projects with closely matching themes. In the next phase we had ‘meeting point’ events for networks and journals. At a later date we tried to work with ‘growth of knowledge’ symposia that re-examined completed projects and platform-oriented symposia that tried to develop knowledge sharing platforms for specific project areas. This all belonged to the phase of ‘networking the networks’. Looking back, these activities were niche initiatives within the research community, supported by digital tools that were in their infancy and in a very early evolutionary phase of European cooperation.

The transitional phase: From critique on European Qualification Framework (EQF) to search for new themes

In the subsequent phase the inner life in the VETNET network had got settled and the VETNET board was working as a collective team. The diversity of VET research was kept in mind with a set of descriptors (key themes) that were used to organise the conference sessions. However, at this phase role of European cooperation was changing. Instead of discussing their own innovation agendas they were becoming more dependent on European policies  and moving to new funding priorities. This brought into picture projects on making the European Qualification Framework (EQF), the European system of Credit Transfer in VET (ECVET), European models for e-Learning, evaluation frameworks for European projects and specific projects for ‘target groups’. Here I do not want argue that such themes couldn’t be innovative. Yet, the search for common grounds was taking place within policy-based priority areas.

However, during this period the community developed a culture of critical reflection on the policy concepts with which it was working. In several ECER conferences there were symposia in which we had critical discussions on the eclectic nature of the above frameworks. Also, we had analyses on the limited ‘unifying’ impact of qualification frameworks on VET cultures in countries that have similar frameworks. This prepared the grounds for moving to themes that look at new drivers of innovation and on the role of VET in contributing to change agendas.

The newest phase: Coming together to shape a European VET research agenda

Concerning the development towards the newest phase we need to note the achievements that I have mentioned in my previous blog post – the launch of the new journal IJRVET, the emergence of the new international conferences and the progress with book publications. Parallel to this the VETNET network initiated a global network under the umbrella of World Educational Research Association (WERA) with focus on internationalisation in VET research. This has broadened the range of participation and intensified the  international exchanges beyond Europe.  This has also contributed to a stronger conceptual orientation in European and international VET research. This can be seen in particular in a more differentiated and critical look at transfer of policies, VET arrangements and innovation concepts between different countries and global regions.

In this respect there has been an ongoing discussion on European VET research agenda in several ECER conferences. At ECER 2019 the discussion was guided by the challenge to promote integration of knowledge in VET research. On a more pragmatic level this discussion focused on a planning tool for VETNET sessions – how to bring different level (macro-, meso- and miro-level) in a common thematic area into dialogue with each other. Here we noted some progress in the sessions of this conference. Secondly, this challenge was discussed from the perspective, how to present ourselves and our messages to policy-makers and other stakeholders. Thirdly, this was discussed from the perspective of reviewing knowledge development in VET research in review articles.

Concerning the project work and conference sessions, this spirit has been present among others in sessions that focus on proactive preparation to new funding frameworks for innovation programmes. Also, this spirit has characterised sessions that discuss the role of researchers as catalysts of sustainable innovations and quality-awareness in larger R&D programmes. Finally, this spirit has become manifest in sessions on grassroot projects in which researchers study community-building processes that aim to improve pedagogic quality of VET.

I guess this is enough of the debates on VET research in the VETNET network. As I see it, we have come a long way forward from the very early phases of the community development. Thinking of the current phase, we are rather well prepared for future challenges. For me, as someone who has been involved from the beginning, this is very rewarding. Now that my time with ECER and active VETNET involvement is coming to an end, I can look forward to the future with an optimistic feeling. However, I have not finished my work yet and I have to put an effort to finish properly.

More blogs to come …

Chamber Music Festival Kuhmo 2017 and follow-up – Part Two: The fascination of the “Salakamari”

December 21st, 2017 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my previous blog I started a series of posts looking back at the highlights of the year 2017 – and this time with a focus on the cultural highlights starting from the Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival 2017. In my previous post I told of the background of this festival and how it became – against odds – a success story. I also told, how this particular festival in the year 2017 became a special event for us and what kind of highlights were performed on the stage. But, I also hinted that the concerts were not all that mattered in the Kuhmo experience. This brings us to the phenomenon ‘Salakamari’.

The meeting point Salakamari (Secret chamber) and its attraction

Indeed, a major ingredient in the Kuhmo atmosphere was the meeting point “Salakamari” – a pop-up restaurant built into an old barnhouse. In the evenings it served as the restaurant and it had an outdoor bar area with a open campfire. In the mornings Salakamari served as a pop-up conference facility. For each day there was a short opening lecture on the theme of the day by one of the artists. And this was accompanied by a short performance of music – eventually with guest artists. Below we have some pictures of these Salakamari sessions.

Kuhmo Salakamari 1  Kuhmo Salakamari 2

The Salakamari lecture 1: Information and impressions delivered by Sergey Malov

These early morning lectures at Salakamari turned out to be exciting sessions and the artists made their best as presenters and performers. My first experience was the lecture of Sergey Malov, who had already shown that he is a virtuoso as violinist (see my previous post). But in Salakamari he demonstrated that he is an accomplished music teacher who can reveal the secrets of music to beginners just as well as to students who want to become professionals. Sergey told about his own background and of his education in Russia, Austria and Germany – and how he refused to make an exclusive choice between violin and viola, then to add the baroc instrument violoncello da spalla to his instruments. He told us of the composers, whose music he is currently playing – and put them into group picture of predecesors, contemporaries and successors. In this way we got a feeling for continuity and development in a musical genre – not just insights into particular pieces of music. (This is also what he has delivered in his records – putting Paganini into context or even more: putting Ysaÿe into context.) Concerning the Kuhmo festival, he praised the opportunity for artists to come together, play together and try something different together. Also he emphasised the opportunity for younger artists to take more challenging roles. And indeed, he gave us an analysis on the next concert and a recommended us to join him and go to listen to it. As I said it, the great artist also proved to be a great educator and analyst – chapeau, Meister Sergey!

The video below was not exactly the music that Meister Sergey  played there, but it has probably been filmed in Kuhmo:

The Salakamari lecture 2: Daniel Rowland with guests and stories from the Netherlands and Argentina

My other great experience in Salakamari was with the English-Dutch violinist Daniel Rowland as the host. Indeed, he told something of himself and his background, growing up in a bilingual family in the Netherlands. And he had also a story, how he got attracted to Kuhmo and became fascinated. But he had also brought guests with him and with his guests he had special memories of playing together. The first guest was the Italian guitar player Alberto Mesirca and they played together Paganini. The story behind was that they had been playing in the Netherlands and a film crew insisted that they should play in the middle of a tulip field. And the artists obeyed, as we can see from the video below:

But then Alberto had to leave for the airport and gave way for the other guest, the Argentinian bandonion-player Marcelo Nisinman. And with Marcelo there had been a similar outdoor-performing session, again with a Dutch film crew but now in Kuhmo. The film crew wanted to have the musicians playing just before midnight, yet in daylight, at the lakeside. And again, the artists obeyed although they were surrounded by armies of Nordic mosquitoes. There were quite few also in Salakamari, when they played again, but not as many as you can see on the video below.

Well, we enjoyed the stories and the music. But Daniel topped it up by telling how Marcello got acquainted with the gran maestro Astor Piazzolla and invited Marcelo to tell more. So, the session became quite a learning journey delivering us influences and inspirations from here and there and everywhere. We gladly accepted Daniel’s characterisation of the festival as the “Planet Kuhmo” with its own atmosphere as a special place for encounters. Hartelijk bedankt, Meester Daniel!

– – –

I guess this is already enough of the encounters in Kuhmo and in the Salakamari sessions. It was quite an inspiration and I started my personal follow-up, tracing websites and communicating on Facebook. But that is already another story to be covered by my next post.

More blogs to come …

 

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