Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

Online learning during the corona crisis – The contribution of the Learning Toolbox

April 7th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog I made the point that nowadays – due to the corona-crisis – the education and training providers have to start delivering their teaching and training online. This is no longer something as add-on to the ‘ordinary’ teaching and training. And as I mentioned, this challenge is being taken in rapid tempo – and it seems to push the developers to new innovations. Since I have been recently travelling, I have not been able to follow all relevant developments. Therefore, I need to catch up with my colleagues who are better informed. However, already at this point I can refer to inspiring news on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) as support for vocational learning – also during the period of lockdown.

Learning Toolbox (LTB) as shared digital toolset for trainers and apprentices

As regular readers of this blog surely know, the Learning Toolbox (LTB) was developed in the context of our EU-funded project Learning Layers (2013 – 2017). After a lengthy co-design process the project partners managed to develop and pilot test a digital toolset to support vocational and workplace-based learning. In our major pilot context, the North-German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup, the full-time trainers have continued to use the toolset and spread it across all construction trades (for which they give training). As we have seen it during the project and afterwards, the LTB has proven to be user-friendly – both from the perspective of trainers and apprentices. Moreover, it has served the purpose to support self-organised learning and professional growth in the respective trades.

Use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) during the period of lockdown

So far our observations on the use of LTB have been based on working visits to Bau-ABC during the normal training periods when the full-time trainers have supervised the apprentices’ projects. Now, during the crisis, the training centre has been closed and the training periods have been postponed. However, the trainers have not capitulated. Instead, they have prepared special LTB-stacks for the closure period and announced them via Facebook. Below, some screenshots will give an impression, how vocational learning contents have been shared with apprentices.

Screenshots 1a and 1b: The general announcement on the LTB-stacks for different trades

Screenshots 2a and 2b: Trade-specific LTB-stacks with attached introductory messages

 

At this point I will not go into details, in what ways the trainers expect that these stacks will be used – after all, no one knows, when and how the return to some kind of new normality can take place. Nevertheless, the Bau-ABC trainers have shown that the LTB has proven to be a valuable toolset in supporting the training and learning processes during the crisis. I will try to catch up with the LTB-developers, the Bau-ABC trainers and other experts to learn more during the coming weeks.

More blogs to come …

Quiet period in education and training activities – What news on the project fronts?

April 6th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I am populating this blog with reports on field visits and project meetings or on emerging results. Right now we are in the middle of a very quiet period. The hitherto normal activities of education and training providers have been closed due to the spread of the corona virus. And in a similar way all face-to-face meetings – whether project meetings, field visits or workshops with local/regional partners – all such events have been cancelled or postponed. So, it is very quiet right now. But yet, it is worthwhile to look at the possibilities that digital tools and online services may provide under such circumstances.

Indeed, as Graham Attwell mentioned in the online meeting of our TACCLE4 CPD last week, this crisis has been a strong push for teachers and trainers to move their activities online. What has been so far considered as a sideline opportunity – something complementary to the ‘regular’ teaching and training in presence – has to be considered as the remaining main option. From this point of view teachers, trainers and university lecturers are making rapid progress in implementing new online learning solutions in their own context. And at the same time developers of online learning platforms and software solutions are doing their best to support such transitions. All this is reflected in many online conferences and meetings. So, even during this quiet period, there are several new developments that need our attention.

From this point of view we discussed the role of our next transnational meeting – which we cannot organise as a face-to-face meeting but as an online meeting. Nevertheless, we agreed to book time slots to catch up with these new developments in online learning and in knowledge sharing within online communities. Also, we discussed the prospects to organise the forthcoming Multiplier events of the project as online events (and to use new formats for such events). Here, we need some time for further planning. BUT, if we want to capture the most valuable fruits of the new developments, we would need to organise the events at a time when our target groups – teachers and trainers – are getting back to the new normality after the period of lockdown. Therefore, I hope that the funding agencies are flexible enough to extend the working periods of projects like ours.

At any rate, I am trying to bring myself back to working mode (at least after the Easter period) and catch up with my friends and colleagues who are closer to new developments. Let us see, what all we will find out.

More blogs to come …

Quiet on the blog – What news from the health front?

April 3rd, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks it has been exceptionally quiet on this blog. Partly it was to be expected, partly I was hit by the new circumstances – ‘force majeure’ as they call it in French. I had announced that I will stop working regularly from my Bremen-based office (or home office) and enter a transitional period (including some travelling and preparation for the retirement). Yet, what I and we all have experienced after my departure from Bremen has been a surprising shock that goes beyond anything we could have anticipated.

During the last few weeks I have been following news on the spread of the corona-virus all over Europe (notably in Germany and England), the United States and in Finland. I do not want to comment the developments here – it has been a hard ride everywhere. However, at a certain point the family members started to urge us to get back to Finland from our faraway location – and they were right in doing so. Sooner than we could anticipate the flight connections were narrowed down before a complete standstill. It was a stroke of luck to get back home before it was too late.

Now, being safe in the home country and staying at home for the required two weeks it is a relief to get settled in peace and quiet. Yet, this is not a holiday period and we know that we need to keep ourselves busy. However, at the moment we do not know, what kind of ‘new normality’ we shall enter when the period of lockdown is over in Europe. What we can expect is that many things will change and that we have to think many things over.

For me personally this goes along with my transitional period. I will not return to regular working from my office at ITB. As I have said, I am on the way to retirement and I will finish my current projects from remote locations (with some short periods in Bremen when possible). Yet, in order to keep myself on track, I will tr¥ to go on with blogging on some of my key themes. In particular I will try to catch up with some of the new developments in organising online learning and online events during this period. In particular our current project TACCLE4 CPD is in a good position to draw conclusions for training of teachers and trainers, how to use digital tools and online learning services in the context of social isolation. There is a lot to be learned in this respect

More blogs to come …

Bye bye, Bremen – see you some time later in the year

February 16th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I am in the process of going to retirement (although having an extension to my part-time contract for the TACCLE4 CPD). So, this is a departure with three steps. Now, the first step has taken place. I have stopped working regularly at my office at ITB and kept an option to use it during my working visits back to Bremen.

Now I have taken time out for private reasons. In this context I am now in London and preparing for a week as a full-time grandpa when my grandchildren have school holidays, while their parents have to work. So, quite a difference compared to last week. And therefore, it will be rather quiet on this blog in the coming time.

But, I still have work to do in the project – and in particular I am inspired by the Multiplier Event of the project that we are preparing for next June. So, I will keep in contact with my colleagues to work further with our plans. So, there will be some updates every now and then.

More blogs to come … ( Watch this space!)

Notes on the Blogchat of February – ePosters powered by Learning Toolbox are not merely e-posters

February 5th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Some time ago I had a chat with my colleague Gilbert Peffer on the recent progress with the Learning Toolbox (LTB) that was developed in our common project. I was so impressed that I wrote a blog post on our discussion.  Moreover, we agreed to continue these discussions and to introduce a new format of communication – Blogchat. This means that we agree on regular online sessions on agreed themes and that I will publish notes on our talks. So, here we go.

ePosters as a major spin-off of the Learning Toolbox (LTB)

Ever since our EU-funded Learning Layers project came to an end in the beginning of the year 2017 I have engaged myself in the follow-up activities with focus on the Learning Toolbox (LTB). In particular I have been interested in the success story of the ePosters (powered by LTB) that have become popular in many conferences. I have been writing blogs on the first pilots in conferences of medical educators and educational technologists. And I was heavily engaged in the pilot that we organised (together with the LTB-developers) at the ECER 2018 in Bolzano/Bozen, Italy. That pilot could not be continued since the organising body – European Educational Research Association (EERA) was at that point tied up with other change agendas. So, afterwards my knowledge on the use of ePosters was rather sporadic. Indeed, I have become aware of many awards that the LTB-developers have received and congratulated them via my blog posts. Yet, I have not got an overview, how strongly our colleagues are making progress. So, it was high time to get a proper update.

Firstly, I was impressed when Gilbert told me about the conferences with which they are working. In the year 2019 the LTB-developers supported fourteen (14) conferences that used ePosters (powered by LTB) in their program. Most of these took place in Europe. For the year 2020 they have already fifteen (15) agreements, half of them taking place in Europe and the rest outside Europe. Moreover, they have agreements with biennial conferences that take place every two years. And, what is most interesting, is the fact that almost all conferences that have piloted with ePosters are now regular users. They have found their ways to integrate the ePosters to their conference cultures.

ePosters are more than mere e-posters

As I have seen it – from afar and from our joint experience – the ePosters made their breakthrough as alternatives to traditional paper posters. For many conferences that had struggled with the space needed for poster sessions and for accommodating the desired number of presentations on a limited number of poster sessions this was a relief. Moreover, some conferences had been frustrated with commercial e-poster software (that didn’t bring much added value). From that perspective the functionality of LTB-powered ePosters was a great step forward:

  • All ePosters could be presented as mini-posters on a poster wall or poster cubicle throughout the conference.
  • With the help of QR-codes all conference participants could download the ePosters they were interested in and access them whenever they had time.
  • It was possible to arrange informal meetings between presenters and participants in the vicinity of the poster walls in a flexible way.
  • The presenters didn’t need to use much time in poster discussion sessions – they could be shaped as actively interactive events (such as barcamps or ePoster arenas).

However, this is not the whole story of ePosters as an innovation in conference culture. Some conferences have become concerned about travel expenses, carbon footprints and travelling times due to presence sessions in conferences. In this respect  one of the forthcoming conferences is organising a pre-conference week that is based on the availability of ePosters on the web already one week before the presence conference. The organisers invite presenters and online participants to a Zoom meeting on the respective ePosters. Then, the recording of the discussion session will be added to the respective LTB stack. From this perspective the emphasis is gradually shifting from ePosters (to be viewed) to ePresentations (that can be discussed with the help of digital media).

Finally, a major asset with the ePosters is that they provide for conference organisers a domain, on which they can keep the legacy of ePosters in successive conferences. This is already the case with the pioneering conferences of healthcare educators. They can now give access to ePosters of their conferences during the last few years.

I guess this is enough of this Blogchat session. I got a much more comprehensive overview of what kind of enrichment the ePosters can provide for conferences. I think that there are some lessons to be learned.

More blogs to come …

Learning Toolbox going strong to the year 2020

January 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday I had a lengthy catch-up talk (via Skype) with my Barcelona-based friend Gilbert Peffer. As regular readers of this blog know, we had worked together intensively in the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project and in the follow-up phase. For the success of the LL project it was crucial that Gilbert (on top of his other duties) engaged himself in the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB). And as we know, the LTB was the key product of the project – and in particular of the Construction pilot. Yet, although the LTB was successfully implemented by construction sector partners, the follow-up phase has not been that easy.

No question, the LTB has pointed out to be a powerful digital toolset for supporting learning in different contexts of Vocational Education and Training (VET). Thanks to the successful implementation of LTB, the LL project was awarded with the VET Research Project Award of the European Vocational Skills Week in Vienna 2018. And during his visit as ‘apprentice’ in the training centre Bau-ABC the prime minister of the Federal State of Lower Saxony, Stephan Weil was very impressed of the use of digital tools that were presented to him by apprentices. Here, the use of LTB was essentially part of this success story.

Also, as we have noticed it during the years after the project, the ePosters powered by LTB have been taken up in numerous conferences. With this spin-off innovation the LTB developers had reached numerous conferences that have started used ePosters powered by LTB as an alternative for traditional posters or alongside them. Also, on this front the LTB developers have received several awards as remarkable service providers.

Indeed, I have blogged on all these success stories and celebrated with the LTB developers. And indeed, in my reports for the EU-funded TACCLE4 CPD I had highlighted the use of LTB with the expression “The Learning Toolbox path”. In this way I had set the approach to a wider context. I see it as one of the innovation paths for promoting digital competences of teachers, trainers and learners in the field of VET and as a contribution to vocational learning culture. So far so good. However, now that I am in the transition to the full retirement phase I was afraid that I loose sight of the development of this innovative approach.

From this perspective it was rewarding to hear the news of Gilbert. It strikes me that the LTB developers are making progress on all fronts – with uses of LTB in training and in events. Now the LTB developers are working with several German training centres in the construction sector – and our partners in the LL project serve as multipliers in promoting the use of the toolset. In addition it strikes me that they have found new ways to use LTB in the healthcare sector in England – and the healthcare pilot partners of LL have been co-developing the new working perspectives. Furthermore, other healthcare service providers in Spain have identified new ways to use LTB to support the relatives of patients who need training for sensitive issues in their engagement with the patients.

This all has shown me that the work with the LTB is not fading away – on the contrary, it is conquering new terrains. This triggered once again my instincts of accompanying researcher and of inspired blogger. Even if I go on retirement, I want to follow these processes as best I can and support my colleagues via blog posts. So, we agreed with Gilbert on a new format for our cooperation – a monthly Blogchat. In this way Gilbert (who is very busy with the practical work around LTB) can report in a quick way on recent developments. And I can then write blogs that give visibility for the innovation. In this way we are continuing our long and successful cooperation with the innovation that is worth celebrating.

More blogs to come …

 

Starting the new year with many changes and new challenges

January 26th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yes, the new year 2020 has started already some weeks ago – I hope you all have had a good start of the year.

For me this year will be different from all of what I have experienced so far. I have returned to Bremen as has been the case for so many years before. So far I have always started working further from what I had left behind when going on the holiday break. This time it is not the case.

Concerning my employment status, I am waiting for the decision that settles my terms of retirement starting from the 1st of January 2020. Once I have got the related paperwork settled I will leave Bremen and move back to Finland. However, there are several matters of private nature that keep me moving around before I settle back to the home grounds.

In addition to the above I still have a minor contract for finishing the final duties with the EU-funded project TACCLE4 CPD. This contract will come to end at the end of August this year. However, as I have already delivered my reports for the project, I have a limited number of duties to take care of. So, I am preparing myself to go on retirement via a transitional period. I will be around in Bremen in the beginning of the year and then return for some working periods.

Concerning this blog, I will not be writing that frequently as I have used to. I am no longer in the middle of an active project that keeps me busy with working issues and with lessons learned. Right now I need to give more attention to all kinds of practicalities that need not be discussed on the blog. But, every now and then I will come up with some new issues or with memories. There is still time to reflect on working and learning.

More blogs to come …  (every now and then)

Celebrating Klassiker-Blogger Wilfred Rubens – Reflections on knowledge sharing, networking and smart commentaries

October 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday I got the message from my Dutch blogger-colleague Wilfred Rubens that he has a special working anniversary: He wrote his first blog exactly sixteen years ago (here the link to Wilfred’s blog post announcing the anniversary). I immediately congratulated him on his Facebook account, where he had shared his blog post. But this incident also triggered quite a lot of thoughts about the sense of ‘history’ in blogging, on learning by logging, learning from others’ blogs and on networking via blogs and social media. Moreover, it triggered thoughts about my path to become a blogger and what role Wilfred (whom I have never met in person) has been an important reference person. This is related to my rocky road to learning more about technology-enhanced learning. And finally, it is the magic, how to become an internationally well-known blogger when using Dutch as the main communication language (quite fascinating for a native Finn, who has learned also Dutch). So, here we go with all these thoughts that can be brought together with the headings ‘searching’, ‘lurking’ and ‘working the way through’.

Searching: How it all started long ago (and before we had the blogs)

Here I need to go back to end of 1990s when I was working with a temporary contract as a project manager at Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) in Thessaloniki. At that time I was working closely with a number of European research cooperation projects in the field of vocational education and training (VET). I and my colleagues among the project promoters tried to develop patterns of ‘networking the networks’. This included joint seminars for parallel projects with common interests, joint symposia in European conferences and joint initiatives to promote knowledge sharing with the help of ICT resources. Here Graham Attwell and his friends in Wales played a pioneering role. There was a great enthusiasm of knowledge sharing, active interactivity and expectation to get powerful platforms to be used for community development and learning from each other. Indeed, something was reached, but it was ahead of its time and technically fragile. So, the enthusiasm started to fade away. Yet, already at that time I was trying to learn from ‘neighbouring’ intiiatives. So, I was also a subscriber of the weekly updates of the Dutch BVE-net (where Wilfred was working at that time) and of the German innovation programme “kolibri” (with a similar approach as the BVE-net).

However, very soon the winds of European policies changed. The European intergovernmental frameworks emerged as the main thrust of cooperation. Based on the model of the Bologna process (and the European mobility in Higher Education) a similar solution was sought for the field of VET with the Copenhagen process (and the European Qualification Framework). Also, there were expectations to find alternative educational initiatives with commercial eLearning providers and with the company-led “Career space” initiatives of ICT industries. And finally, the idea of ‘networking the networks’ was brought down to hosting ‘virtual communities’ that were supposed to be self-movers.

All this led to the phase in which my time in Cedefop was over and I had to look for a new start back in Finland. Now, after all these years, It is difficult to find traces of many of those initiatives and activities that I have mentioned. Some of them had their time. Some of them never really took off.

Lurking: Becoming aware of new ideas, networks and community-building processes

In the next phase I was back in Finland and had a temporary contract as a visiting researcher attached to the Vocational Teacher Education College of the Jyväskylä Polytechnic (latterly Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences). During that period I was trying to get my feet back on the ground in my home country and also trying to find new ways to contribute to European cooperation in VET research. It wasn’t a very easy period. The European cooperation was overshadowed by the new framework processes (EQF, ECVET, setting up new units for monitoring quality assurance …). Experienced researchers were allocated to evaluation projects rather than invited to promote new initiatives.

In the light of the above it was important that the theme ‘technology-enhanced learning’ provided a creative niche that soon generated creative spaces and provided the basis for genuine community-building processes. Here it is worthwhile to note that this creative movement was opposing the one-sided commercial eLearning approaches and the ICT industries’ efforts to monopolize technology-enhanced learning for their products. In this context the early applications of social media became important. Powerful bloggers and community blogs emerged and achieved high popularity. Critical studies on the use of ICT for learning in SMEs showed that the ready-made solutions are not taken up. New solutions were sought with Open Source software and OSS communities. To some extent this radiated to the field of VET with emphasis on new portfolio concepts in order to empower learners. Yet, the community processes were more looking to conferences like OEB, Alt-C and the events of JISC and SURF.

During this period I was clearly a lurker, trying to get a picture, what is going on and trying find my way to participate. My key informer was Graham Attwell, who was already fully engaged in these processes and debates. And thanks to Graham’s recommendation I started following Wilfred’s blogs on technology-enhanced learning as best I could. To Wilfred’s style in blogging was (and has always been) something special – he is carrying out mini-studies, presenting explorations, providing overviews on debates and making reflective commentaries. They are contributions to knowledge sharing and knowledge development – not primarily engagement in debates between opposite opinions. This was very valuable for me at that time and has been since then.

Working the way forward: The rocky road to become a blogger (who is working & learning via blogging)

The crucial turn for me was the new start as a project-based researcher at ITB, University of Bremen – the institute that I had known for many years (and with which I had mostly cooperated during my years in Cedefop). I was a team member in a major institute that was highly respected and a strong player in the European cooperation. Yet, it is worthwhile to note that many of the projects were overshadowed by pressure to provide a basis for standards or regulative frameworks, whilst the projects were more interested in promoting ‘learning from each other’. This was clearly the case with projects on teachers and trainers in VET, but also with projects on workplace learning partnerships and practice-based learning in higher education. We also had some ‘niche projects’ that were not so centrally involved in VET issues but provided opportunities to pilot with new platforms and with blogging.

Concerning my own development as a blogger, this phase was characterised by a strange contradiction. In some projects I managed to work with a project blog and contribute regularly. BUT this was all about working issues, progress and achievements of the said progress – without really reaching out to wider discussion. At the same time my efforts to start a personal blog never got further than sketching some general ideas for the European VET research community  – without providing a real perspective, how to work with those ideas. As a consequence, I had lengthy gaps in my personal blogging history. And my contributions to blogs on project websites tended to get lost in cyberspace once the domain names got outdated and were not renewed.

Gradually, the themes ‘digitization in education and training’  and ‘digital transformation’ in working life and through the society became central issues for all innovation programmes. For us in ITB the decisive step forward was the beginning of the Learning Layers project and our entry to the project consortium as late newcomers (with the construction sector partners). Our role was somewhat unspecific and we had to work ourselves into the project idea while working with the practitioners alongside us. For me this provided the critical challenge for using the blog as a creative space for working and learning (and for reflecting what has been achieved). Also, the Europe-wide project consortium was a clear audience to be addressed and the process dynamic brought into picture new issues to be shared. Once I had got the habit of blogging regularly, I understood that the blogs laid foundation for the reporting in the project and for my further conceptual work. And alongside this, I found it appropriate to blog on historical events or on other interesting themes (such as music) but yet keeping the main focus on innovations in vocational and workplace learning. And with the Learning Layers project we were there – with the challenge to work with shaping appropriate digital toolsets to support learning in the context of work. And with the Learning Toolbox we are now promoting an innovation that has been shaped for the practitioners, with the practitioners and by the practitioners.

I guess I have said enough of my rock yroad to become a blogger. During this latest intensive phase I couldn’t follow that closely the work of Wilfred Rubens. Yet, being a subscriber to his blog I have been bombarded with news feeds that inform, what he is up to. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed of his productivity and sad that I cannot follow all what I am getting from him. But even if my following is at a superficial level, I have some glimpses of that richness of knowledge that he is sharing. And therefore, with my background development that I have described above, I feel that I am in a position to congratulate Wilfred as a “Klassiker-Blogger” and celebrate his anniversary: Years and more, blogs an more – we are with you!

More blogs to come … (also on my side)

 

Practical jokes with my blog – now back to the working mode

August 19th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

The readers of my blog may have been puzzled because of my two latest blog entries: “Why on earth has this author suddenly started to write in an unusual language?”

Well, partly it was due to the fact that I was very exhausted when going to my holidays in Finland. So I decided to write summer holiday greetings in my native language – Finnish – which I normally don’t use when blogging. And when I returned, I felt inclined to write some lines in Finnish (as bye-bye to the holiday mode) and in German (as getting acclimatized to my working environment).

But there was another tricky thought behind it. As the author of this blog I can view the spam-filter of this site and delete the spam comments that refer to my blog posts. I have been doing such gardening for quite some time. Some of these comments are seemingly serious compliments or questions (but then propose that I should follow their spam advertisement). Thinking of such spammers, I tested whether I get similar comments to these posts that have not at all been written in English. Indeed, that has been the case but to less extent. My earlier posts keep attracting more spam comments that these ones.

OK, this was the late summer joke and test. I got the results. Now it is time to get back to my usual themes and to writing in a working mode.

More blogs to come …

Takaisin sorvin ääreen – Zurück zu’ Drehbank

August 5th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Jäädessäni lomalle kesäkuussa toivotin kaikille lukijoilleni hyvää juhannusta ja hyvää kesää – suomeksi. Olinhan lähdössä Suomeen viettämään kesälomaa kotimaassani. Tulipa mieleen ajatus kirjoittaa kesätervehdys omalla äidinkielelläni. No, nyt ne lomat on pidetty ja olen palannut töiden ääreen. Vanhan suomalaisen sanonnan mukaisesti olen palannut “takaisin sorvin ääreen”. Tämä tässä vielä suomeksi, mutta nyt on aika palata taas käyttämään pääasiallista työkieltäni – englantia.

Wenn ich Ende Juni in Urlaub gegangen bin, habe ich meine Leser*innen auf Finnisch gegrüsst. Ich war doch dabei, ein Heimatsurlaub in Finnland anzufangen. Jetzt bin ich wieder zurück zu meinem Arbeitsplatz in Bremen gekommen. Laut einen alten finnischen Spruch “zurück zu’ Drehbank”. Also, das kann ich auch auf deutsch ausdrücken. Von nun an geht es aber weiter hauptsächlich auf englisch.

PS. This was the second part of my practical joke and a related test. I wrote my greetings when going on holidy in my native languag – in Finnish. And now I have announced my return to work in Finnish and in German (the local language). I am keen to observe whether this makes any difference to the amount of spam comments I get when using another language than English.

More blogs to come (on my usual topics and in English) …

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