Archive for the ‘education’ Category

“Working & Learning” after working life – thoughts on further blogging

January 13th, 2021 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last year I finished my blogs with thoughts on retirement and retreat. I came to the conclusion that I need to rediscover myself as a blogger now that I am no longer an active researcher in the field of vocational education and training. So, gone are the stories of fieldwork, European projects, transnational meetings and conferences. Also, I am no longer an expatriate Finn living in Germany (and with a motivation to explain what is going on in present-date German society). Therefore, I decided to have a holiday break and think it all over.

Now I want to wish everybody a good start for the new year 2021. Not that I would be much wiser than few weeks ago. I still need give some thoughts on my future role as a blogger. But I have already some answers to the question, why I should continue blogging:

  • Reflections on the lessons learned during my active working life: So far I have been writing in a ‘reporting’ mode on what has happened or what has been recently produced for ongoing projects. Now I can look back and discuss, what has been learned during that work on specific key themes.
  • Valuing the work of my (former) colleagues: So far I have been writing such blogs when a former colleague has passed away. Now I should also write on the importance of other colleagues (retired or active) for my work. Moreover, I should give visibility for colleagues, who are continuing the work in which I have been involved.
  • Keeping an eye, what is going on in Europe: I may still find some issues that I might comment from my particular European perspective (having lived as an expatriate abroad quite some time). In particular this might be the case with European cooperation and with the Finnish or German views on it.
  • Keeping an eye, what is going on with the cultural scenes that I follow: Here I leave it open, what I might bring into discussion under this heading. Time will tell.

So, I guess this is enough for a new start. Let us see, what may be on the cards later this year.

More blogs to come …

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Thoughts on retirement and retreat – Part Two: Blogging vs. engagement with social media

December 9th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest post I started to share my thoughts on my transition to retirement and the consequences for blogging. I made the point that for me going on retirement was coupled with retreat to my home country Finland. Thus, I had left behind the ‘battle grounds’ in project work, activities in research communities and engagement as a German-based European expatriate. So, in many respects I had closed some important chapters in my life, changed places and faced the challenge to find a new role as a blogger. Part of this process is to think about my engagement in (other) social media and the consequences for blogging. Below I share some points on my engagement in social media – notably Facebook.

Sharing news and views of prominent persons

In my previous post I wrote of my engagement as an interpreter between the Germans (among whom I had lived for a long time) and other Europeans. This was mainly connected to historical anniversaries. Gradually, I shifted these activities to Facebook. Instead of writing posts myself, I started sharing updates (often with video or audio) published by German TV or radio channels. These have been mainly in German language but I have prepared brief introductions in English. Also, I have shared updates that present speeches or comments of prominent persons on historical anniversaries or on current political and international developments. Here, I have delimited my role into drawing attention to such contributions. I have not wanted to assume the role of expert or journalist to give a full commentary. By sharing updates I have found my role – blogging would have required an extra effort to make my views transparent and to engage in debates.

Engagement with Finnish expatriate communities

In my previous post I also referred to an interest to give European colleagues insights into the history of Finland and into the process of becoming a nation and gaining independence. Once these posts were written, I felt that I had completed that mission. At the same time I became more actively involved in the Finnish expatriate community in Bremen and in several Facebook-communities of expatriate Finns. Also in these groups I tended to share information and news articles from TV and radio channels. But I have also been in the lucky position to alert members of these groups to concerts, TV programs or video/audio recordings that are accessible on the internet. Here again, I have taken the role of communicator and facilitator, spreading information on important statements, interesting events and cultural products.

Engagement with musicians (whom I have met in Finland)

A special point of interest in my blogging (firstly) and engagement in Facebook is my interest in chamber music and friendship with several musicians. This all started from the (international) Kuhmo Chamber Music Festival in the year 2017. During that year I got inspired of the performances of several international and Finnish musicians and became friends (also Facebook friends) with them. Some time later I detected the magnificent Bremer Barockorchester and started to keep an eye on them. Unfortunately I didn’t have that many chances to attend their concerts. But I was happy to spread news on their video recordings that were published on their concerts during the recent years. In the subsequent years t I have spread information of the activities of my favourite musicians on my Facebook page and in different FB-groups. Here again, I have taken the role of cultural communicator and facilitator in the interest of good music and enjoyable events.

In the light of the above, there has been a gradual shift from blogging to Facebook-updates in my other fields of interest. Thus, my blogging has focused more an more on my research & development projects and on my engagement in research communities. So, whilst I have found my role elsewhere in the social media, I need to to re-invent myself as a blogger. I do not think that that would be a “Mission Impossible”. But I understand that it will take some time. Therefore, I am going to have a break with this blog over the Christmas holiday and New Year’s festivities (however they may take place). But I will get back in the new year 2021. So, for the moment my message is:

Have a merry Christmas time and a good slide to the new year 2021! Keep healthy and take care!

And since I have mentioned the Bremer Barockorchester, let us have season’s greetings from them:

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

 

 

 

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Thoughts on retirement and retreat – Part One: What consequences for blogging?

December 9th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog posts I have been closing my activities as a project-based researcher. In addition, I have made a brief review on different phases of my career with European research & development projects in the field of vocational education and training (VET). This has been part of my stepping out of active engagement in working life and transition to retirement. At the end of those posts I have indicated that I will continue writing blogs, but from a different perspective. However, as long as I have had something to report and review (in particular in the light of occasional anniversaries), I have not given much thoughts on what implications this new situation – landing to retirement – might have for my future blogging. Now it is time to share some thoughts on it – and to make it transparent, what kind of fundamental changes I am going through. Below I will mention some aspects of these changes.

Semi-retirement, full retirement and retreat from the ‘battle grounds’

For many active researchers the end of the career at their university job has not meant a complete departure from their former activities. Many of my old acquaintances have continued in some form of consultancy and private research activities. That is often called as semi-retirement (and the Germans top it up with their joking expression ‘(Un)Ruhestand’). I have had my taste of this during this year when I had a short part-time contract alongside my pension to finish my activities in my last project. But for me it was clear that when the project is over, there will be no such continuation.

For me the strong point was the need to move back to my home country Finland. For many years I had lived as an expatriate in Germany and visiting my home country and my beloved ones as often as I could (but not as often I would have wished). So, now it was the time to put an end to this shuttling and to get settled. During the year 2020 there was a longer period of working from the Finnish home office and that was a kind of ‘semi-retreat’ but it didn’t feel like the complete retreat. Now, once I have finished the project work and moved completely back to Finland. I start to understand, what difference it makes to leave the ‘battle grounds’.

Research & development work in action vs. observation from afar

During my active years my blogging on projects has been inspired by the fact that I have been in the middle of action – working closely with development-related challenges and action contexts and with European partners. This has given me food for thought and I have been digesting my experiences and our ideas with blogs posts. Also, these project contexts have given me the awareness of actual and potential audiences with whom I am in a dialogue. Now, in the process of retirement and retreat this feeling is fading away.

In this context I have to mention the VETNET network of the European Educational Research Association (EERA) and its activities in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). Ever since the founding phase I have been active in different roles and become recognised as the historian of the network. My blogs  on the annual ECER conferences have given me the basis for writing a report on the evolution of the VETNET network by the year 2016 (when I had to stay away from the conference that celebrated the 20th anniversary due to illness). I then returned to the three following conferences and wrote further blogs but indicated that I will not continue participating in the future conferences. (I left open the option to complete the history report up to ECER 2019.)

Now, due to the corona crisis, the ECER 2020 was cancelled with rather short notice and the ECER 2021 will be organised as an online event. In this respect the VETNET network has been working with new solutions for proceedings publications to harvest the participants’ contributions for the ECER 2020 and to prepare the grounds for online participation. From this perspective, the VETNET is entering a new era with new challenges. I can at best wish good luck.

Staying as an expatriate in Germany – and being engaged with other Europeans

Alongside my project-related blogging I have sometimes taken up somewhat different themes. Mainly I have taken the role of a European expatriate living in Germany and interpreting some interesting themes from the German point to other Europeans. Many of these have been related to historical anniversaries – in particular to the processes of peaceful revolution in East Germany 1989 and to the German reunification in 1990. But I have also reported on the pro-European movement Pulse of Europe and its activities to promote positive engagement to promote European solidarity and commitment to work together for a better future. I was pleased to be able to join in the activities and give some inputs in the ‘open microphone’ sessions of the regular Sunday meetings.

Also, I have written some blogs with focus on the 100th anniversary of the Finnish independence. I felt the need to explain the particular history of our nation-building during the centuries of Swedish rule and the century of Russian rule (but with a considerable degree of autonomy). Then, I felt the need to explain the difficult process of gaining the independence (after the World War I), defending it (during the World War II) and consolidating the Finnish welfare state and the particular international position as western democracy and bridge-builder between East and West.

Looking back, I am pleased that I have been active on these fronts. BUT I am no longer there, among the Germans and working with other Europeans. So, I think that I have already completed the mission when it comes to blogging on these themes.

So, having shared these thoughts I am somewhat uncertain, how to continue my blogging from a different perspective. Obviously, I need to find a new role for myself and that takes time. Part of this process is to reconsider, what I want to discuss via blogging and what as a user of (other) social media. That is the topic for my next blog post.

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

 

 

 

 

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25 years with European projects – 15 years with ITB – 8 years with regular blogging

November 28th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my recent posts I have several times mentioned that I am going through a transition from active project work to retirement. In my latest post I was pleased to note that the management of the University of Bremen thanked me for my years of service and sent me nice souvenirs from Bremen. During the last few days it has crossed my mind that several anniversaries of my career come together in this season. So, perhaps it is appropriate to say some words about the beginning of my engagement with European projects (25 years ago).  Then, I can reflect on the beginning of my work as a researcher of  Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – and as an active project promoter (15 years ago). Finally, it is worthwhile to look back at my start as a regular blogger on my work in European projects (8 years ago). To be sure, I do not try to give a complete overview of my work with projects during all these years. Instead, I want to give insights into critical turning points and changes in the European cooperation climate in the field of vocational education and training (VET).

25 years work with European projects in the field of VET

Indeed, I had started working at Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) already in the year 1994. My work started on transitional basis and at that time all Cedefop activities were overshadowed by the fact that the centre was to be relocated from Berlin to Thessaloniki. However, already during my time in Berlin I had made contacts with different European institutes that were preparing projects for the new European cooperation programs – in particular for the Leonardo da Vinci program for the field of VET. Moreover, I had participated in the inaugural events that were organised in Berlin by the European Commission and the national Leonardo centre in Germany (at that time placed in Berlin). At that time the role of Cedefop vis-à-vis the program and the projects was not clear. I then saw an opportunity to start a Cedefop project that was based on knowledge sharing and exchanges between parallel projects as ‘networking the networks’. By the end of the year 1995 (when Cedefop had moved to Thessaloniki and I had got a proper EU contract) I was ready to start working with a number of EU-funded projects with similar themes and interests of knowledge.

What struck me from the very beginning, was the creative and innovative spirit of many of these projects. It can at best be characterised with slogans like ‘Learning from Europe and learning for Europe’ or ‘Working together and learning from each other’. Some of the project partners had already earlier experience from European projects in which they had only produced national reports or case studies – and that was it. Now, the projects tried to develop common understanding of the theme and to set their own understanding of VET into a European group picture. In this context the partners did not understand themselves as advocates for their national systems or policies. Instead, many projects developed frameworks that helped the participants to reflect critically on the relative strengths and weaknesses of their respective VET systems and institutions. Moreover, many projects had interesting discussions, what different countries and VET models can learn from each other. As far as I am concerned, I accompanied several projects by participating in their events and organised European seminars and symposia in which project partners shared knowledge and commented each others’ work.

At that time these European research & development projects in education and training were paving the way for emerging European policies. In the beginning the first priority for these European projects was to support EU member states to develop their education and training systems with comparative and collaborative project results. Thus, the projects were working in a creative space and the policy-makers were not steering strongly the work in these programs. However, the creative period and climate of openness did not last long and the momentum faded away. As I see it, there were several reasons for this:

  • Although the projects provided valuable analyses and opened interesting innovative perspectives, they were not in the position to push forward strong change agendas. The messages on learning from each other did not lead to effective policy processes.
  • Many projects had reached an interesting interim synthesis with a limited number of partner countries. When follow-up projects were launched with a wider range of participating countries, the European group picture got blurred.
  • The researchers who had participated in several projects had reached a point of relative saturation of learning from each other and were confronted that this wider knowledge does not help them in promoting innovations in their own countries.
  • At the European level policy-makers shifted the emphasis from innovations in national VET systems to transparency of learning outcomes. Thus, instead of looking for systemic and cultural innovations, the policy processes started working with quasi-neutral ‘European’ reference levels, descriptors and credit transfer models.

During those years (19944/95 – 2002) blogging was not available as an option to reflect on the activities. At that time I could at best write down my experiences and thoughts into my mission reports (Dienstreiseberichte). After my time in Cedefop I compiled them into several thematic logbooks that gave a picture on my accompanying activities (with projects) on my involvement in conferences and on my contributions to the VETNET network (inthe context of ECER-conferences).

15 years work with European projects of ITB

Alongside the above-described change in the European cooperation climate my time at Cedefop had come to an end. I had returned to Finland and tried to get grounded in my home country. However, it pointed out to be harder than I thought. Therefore, I was pleased to start working at ITB. I had learned to know the institute already before my time in Cedefop and  I had had very close cooperation with ITB colleagues promoting the ‘networking the networks’ among European projects.

In the beginning my role was somewhat ambiguous. To be sure, I had a clear task to support ITB in the European follow-up of the international Hangzhou conference to promote a common approach to VET teacher education (based on genuine VET research tradition). However, in addition to this, it was not clear, what else was on the cards. However, very soon a colleague had a traffic accident and got a hospital infection on top of it. So, I was asked to jump in as a replacement to coordinate the EU-funded project on workplace learning partnerships. This turned out to be a hard ride, because the partners were working in very different circumstances and it was difficult to bring the activities and achievements towards common conclusions.

This difficult start was followed by a number of projects on ‘training of trainers’ or promoting professional development of ‘teachers and trainers in VET’. Many of these projects were overshadowed by policy-makers’ expectations to create common European standards or guidelines (compatible with the Bachelor/Master structure of the Bologna process or in terms of common European reference levels). Some of these projects could promote learning from each other, but the diversity of the country-specific approaches could hardly be linked to a common innovation agenda. Yet, as a side-effect, some of these projects brought the work with common platforms, project-based blogs and social media into picture.

Indeed, during this period I made several attempts to use blogging as means to support European projects. Firstly I tried to work with project-specific blogs as means to provide progress reports and to share ideas. Also, at a certain point there was an effort to develop a conference blog for the VETNET network – to share experiences of different sessions. Some of the project blogs – in particular those that involved video interviews – played a role in bringing the partners together to a common discussion. Yet, they were hardly in a position to reach a wider audience. For me personally some project blogs were of vital importance in shaping the ITB contribution as series of blog articles (e.g. the Politics project) or as series of video interviews with ITB colleagues and affiliated VET teachers (e.g. the Co-op PBL in VET project). Sadly, most of these project blogs have gone lost since the respective websites are no longer available.

8 years with regular blogging on my work and experiences with my latest projects

Already during the above-mentioned phase of work I had tried to start my own blog as means to share ideas and experiences. However, these efforts were rather short-lived. My first start was an attempt to revitalize the ‘networking the networks’ approach with a self-made framework of common ideas to be promoted in European projects. Obviously, such an idea – without an institutional backing and without any resources – was a castle in the air.  Then, at the next phase I already grasped the leading theme ‘working and learning’ but the projects of that time did not give much ingredients for regular blogging.

Strangely enough, the greatest opportunity for ‘working and learning’ in the context of European cooperation was provided by a project that was not designed by ITB and wasn’t focusing primarily on the field of VET. Indeed, the Learning Layers project was developed by an interdisciplinary consortium of educational technologists, ICT system architects, software developers and applied information technologists. They were interested in promoting organisational and workplace-based learning in healthcare organisations and were developing a proposal for the 7th Framework Programme of Research, Technology and development of the European Union. Luckily, the consortium came to a conclusion that they needed another sector in another country. That brought into picture the construction sector in Germany and ITB as a partner to coordinate and support the construction pilot.

In the light of the above the ITB team had to work itself in into the project and to develop a common approach with the application partners in the construction sector. Based on the experience of ITB in an earlier Work & Technology programme it was possible to launch the initial ‘co-design workshops’ that mapped some needs and possible ways forward. The common design conferences of the consortium gave a rough orientation towards a design idea – digitization of training and learning materials in the construction sector. Yet, with trials, efforts and reorientation this idea was reworked into the concept of the Learning Toolbox – a digital toolset to support workplace learning. Yet, the path from the design idea to a workable toolset and to digital competences to use it was a rocky road. Thus, we needed to take several actions in training the trainers and in finding ways to use the functionality that was emerging. All this complexity and the search and research processes provided a basis for active blogging.

In a similar way I faced a challenge in the follow-up phase when I got the task to represent ITB in the TACCLE4 CPD project. As I have explained it in my blogs of the recent years, I had to work myself and the field of VET in into a project that had focused on general education and promoting digital competences of classroom teachers. Here, I had to analyse the tradition of earlier TACCLE projects and the legacy of the Learning Layers project as a different starting points for promoting digital competences of teachers and trainers. This tension provided a basis for a further period of active blogging.

At the end of both the Learning Layers project I have compiled annual logbooks of the blog posts that I have written during the years that project worked (2012/13 – 2016/17). I also compied a thematic logbook on the development of the Learning Toolbox during the project and in the immediate follow-up phase. Finally, at the end of my work for the TACCLE4 CPD project I have compiled a logbook of my blog posts for this project. All these logbooks – as well as the earlier logbooks of mission reports are all available on my page on ResearchGate.

I guess this is enough of the different periods in my work with European projects. As I see it, I am now stepping out of the project activities – but I can still keep on reflecting, what have been the lessons learned. And I have also learned to write blogs on other topics of European interest. So, I will not drop the pencil now that I have gone to retirement.

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

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Working and Learning with the TACCLE4 CPD project – Logbook of blog posts available on ResearchGate

November 19th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the years 2017 – 2020 I have written regularly blog posts on my work for the EU-funded TACCLE4 CPD project. These have been published  on my blog “Working and Learning” and on the TACCLE4 CPD website. As has been indicated in the blog posts, this project is the fourth in the series of transnational TACCLE projects to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in Europe. Now, on having completed my work for the project, I have collected the blogs into a single document “Working and Learning with the TACCLE4-CPD project – Logbook of blog posts on the TACCLE4-CPD project 2017-2020”.  Below I share some introductory remarks on the logbook.

The background of the TACCLE4 CPD project

The acronym TACCLE referred to the title of the first project “Teachers’ aids on creating content for learning environments” and to its main product – teachers’ handbook for developing e-learning. In the subsequent projects the emphasis was shifted to specific subject domains (TACCLE2) and to supporting the teaching of programming in general education (TACCLE3). The aim of the current project (TACCLE4 CPD) is to support the development of continuing professional development of teachers and trainers in order to enhance their digital competences. Whilst the previous projects were providing direct support for classroom teachers, the current project seeks to develop training models and provide support for those who plan CPD measures.

The challenge for the project work in the field of vocational education and training (VET)

This logbook contains primarily contributions to the work for the TACCLE4 CPD project in the field of vocational education and training (VET). However, many posts try to relate this work to the school-centred approach of the previous TACCLE projects. In particular this becomes visible in the blogs that reflect the importance of the Learning Layers project as a predecessor of the TACCLE4-CPD project.

In this respect this logbook serves as a documentation of a project-specific learning history in which achievements of prior TACCLE projects and of the Learning Layers project are brought together in order to support CPD initiatives in the field of VET. Since this is a logbook of blogs that had been written for an ongoing project, it is not appropriate to present final conclusions. Instead, the logbook provides snapshots on the development of the work at different phases of the work. Therefore, the original blog posts have been copied below as such, without further commentaries.

The logbook “Working and Learning with the TACCLE4 CPD project” is available in the project space “TACCLE CPD and VET” on ResearchGate.

With this update I bring my blogging on the TACCLE4 CPD project to an end and finalise the logbook of the blogs.

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

 

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The work of ITB for the TACCLE4 CPD project successfully completed

November 5th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog post I reported of my last contributions to the ongoing EU-funded project TACCLE4 CPD. In the same context I announced the end of my career as an active researcher and my transition to retirement. However,  I then realised that I had been asked to write a short overview on the finalisation of my project work for the web page of our institute – Insitut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen. I then thought that the best way to complete this task is to write firstly a blog post. In this way I have the chance to revisit firstly the initial idea, then the way that project work was shaped and finally results of the project. Here, it is worthwhile to note that I am not writing on behalf of the whole project but on the specific contributions that focus on the field of vocational education and training (VET).

The project idea and finding the way to work with it in the field of VET

TACCLE4 CPD project was launched as a successor of three earlier TACCLE projects that focused on promoting the digital competences of classroom teachers. The acronym TACCLE stands for “Teachers’ Aids on Creating Content for Learning Environments. The three first projects developed handbooks and online materials to support teachers who were creating contents for e-learning. The aim of the fourth project was to develop strategies and models for continuing professional development (CPD) to promote digital competences of  teachers and trainers in different educational sectors.

Whilst the other partners were focusing on general education and adult education, ITB was invited to work with the field of VET. Here the main reference was the involvement of ITB in the co-design of digital tools, multimedia training for vocational trainers and pilot testing of digital tools in the EU-funded Learning Layers project. From this point of view the background of ITB experience and collaboration with practitioners differed from the approach of other partners who focused integrating the use of digital tools to school-based learning.

The above-mentioned contrast became apparent when the founder of the project, Jenny Hughes from Pontydysgu became seriously ill and then passed away during the first year. As Angela Gerrard from Pontydysgu took over the coordination, the project team had to redefine their roles in the project and find their own ways to work in their respective fields. From this point on the work of ITB became a specific sub-project that focused on the field of VET  and built upon the work in the Learning Layers project.

The main contributions of ITB to the project

Consequently, the contributions of ITB have been special reports that link the issue of promoting digital competences to contexts of vocational and work process-oriented learning. From this perspective the reports have addressed the following themes, challenges and working perspectives:

  • The report on Policy analyses made transparent specific governance models in the field of VET (federal structures, stakeholder involvement) and the role of national local and sectoral innovation partnerships;
  • The examination of Prior and parallel innovation projects gave insights into different innovative approaches in school-based education and in vocational learning contexts;
  • The report on Open Educational Resources (OER) in the field of VET gave insights into specific cases in which OER had been used in vocational learning arrangements;
  • The research report on Strategies and Training concepts for promoting  digital competences builds upon the previos reports. It makes distinctions between school-based and work process-oriented approaches, dicusses overarching frameworks and outlines different innovation paths.
  • The framework “Theme Room Training 2020” builds upon the research report. It revisits the experiences of training with theme rooms in the Learning Layers project. It then outlines a new set of thematic blocks in the light of the research report (e.g. the innovation paths) and other contributions (e.g. the planning tool “TACCLE Routemap”).
  • The report on Civic learning and new uses of digital toolsets complements the picture with newer developments. Firstly it informs of training initiatives that focus on artificial intelligence (AI). Secondly, it informs of new ways of using the Learning Toolbox (LTB) as support for self-organised learning and for online conferences during the coroca-crisis.

The final activities and results – Multiplier Event and the TACCLE4 CPD Showcase

In the final phase ITB organised a Multiplier event in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup – a former partner of the Learning Layers project. The event was based on a short resume of the work of the TACCLE4 CPD project and on the experiences of Bau-ABC trainers on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) as support for training. Also, the experiences with training in theme rooms and the prospect of relaunching a new round of such training was discussed. The work with and in the multiplier event has been documented in and activity report.

In this context ITB presented the TACCLE4 CPD Showcase – a digital resource environment that presents the work of the project as a collection of several LTB-stacks. In this way the showcase provides a comprehensive overview and an easy access to the digital resources that have been produced and used in the project. The showcase has also been introduced in a special report for the project.

I think this is enough of reporting of the work that has been completed in the TACCLE4 CPD project. From now on I need to move on to a phase of reflecting on lessons learned – in this project and throughout my career as researcher. That is a different exercise.

More blogs to come (but from a different perspective) …

 

 

 

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Finishing the last reports for TACCLE4 CPD project – Handing over the torch for other runners

October 31st, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few months I have surprised myself by producing three new reports for the ongoing EU-funded TACCLE4 CPD project. As regular readers of this blog will know, the project has been working with strategies for promoting digital competences of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. And, as a contrast to the three earlier TACCLE projects, the fourth one had the task to shape models and concepts for continuing professional development in educational establishments and training organisations. Furthermore, my role in the project has been to address the task for the field of vocational education and training (VET) and to bring into the project the legacy of the Learning Layers project (in which I had been working for many years).

Now, the project is in its final phase and at the same time my career as an active researchers has come to an end. During the last few weeks I have surprised myself and others by producing three new reports for the project – in addition to the five ones that I had produced by the end of last year. Below, I want to make some comments on these newer reports and how they enrich the group picture of the earlier VET-related reports.

Report 5: Promoting digital competences beyond the accustomed realm of ICT skills

During the project I had been writing blogs on innovative activities to promote digital competences via civic learning and via introduction of specific applications of the Learning Toolbox (the main product developed in the Learning Layers project). To me, the Finnish idea of developing a broad-based introductory course on artificial intelligence (AI) and its impact for the entire civil society was very inspiring. Equally, the recent progress in using the Learning Toolbox (LTB) at different contexts was impressive. In the initial pilot context, vocational trainers made new efforts to support vocational learning during the lockdown. and after the closure period they added new features to using LTB in apprentice training.

Parallel to this, other applications of LTB – mainly the use  of LTB to shape ePosters for conferences (that are shifting from face-to-face events into online events) is becoming widespread. Here, it is worthwhile to note the spread from regular conferences into other kinds of of online events – such as multiplier events of EU-funded projects. Furthermore, I got informed of the progress with LTB showcases. Firstly they had been shaped for particular conferences to give a group picture of the ePosters for the respective conference. In a more mature phase the LTB showcase was used to give a group picture of all conferences and online events that were working with ePosters – of which some exemplars were portrayed in this ‘all stars’ showcase. I was happy to give visibility to the start-up company Kubify (founded by the former LTB-developers) due to their latest achievements. Altogether, this report demonstrated the progress of promoting digital competences beyond the accustomed realms of ICT skills.

Activity Report on the German Multiplier Event at the Training Centre Bau-ABC Rostrup

During my working visit in Bremen (after a long break) I had a chance to organise a Multiplier Event that took place as face-to-face event in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup (with whom we had worked intensively in the Learning Layers project). For me it was a pleasant opportunity to meet several trainers of the centre – some of which had been our counterparts for years, whilst some were newcomers. In my input I gave an overview, how the co-design processes (that led to to the shaping of the LTB) and the parallel training activities (that were completed with training based on Theme Rooms) worked hand in hand in the Learning Layers project. Then I gave some insights into the idea of different innovation paths (for introducing digital competences in the field of VET) and how they can be addressed in a revisited framework for Theme Room Training 2020.  In addition to this I presented the new TACCLE4 CPD Showcase that pulled together the VET-related work in the Learning Layers project and in the current project.

It was interesting to note that the discussion moved on from my inputs to the practical challenges (regarding the use of LTB as support for training) and to the possibilities to take further steps with their internal training. So, in this respect the session became a genuine multiplier event. Indeed, it was concluded with a commitment to start a new round of theme room sessions – based on the ideas and needs of the active trainers and with focus on improving the use of LTB in their context.

Report 2b: The TACCLE4 CPD Showcase as a new collection of online resources

My final report for the project TACCLE4 CPD presented the above-mentioned LTB showcase for this project and how it came into being. As the pre-history I presented the earlier pilot activity to introduce the work with ePosters into the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in the year 2018 in Bolzano. This was a limited pilot project with some ePosters for the network program of VETNET (the European Research Network for Vocational Education and Training). As a further step from this phase the report introduced an overarching showcase for the TACCLE4 CPD project. This showcase provided on the one hand comprehensive LTB-stacks thet presented all VET-related reports for the Learning Layers project and for the TACCLE4 CPD project. Then, it introduced thematic stacks that focused ot the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in the field of VET and outlined the Theme Room Training 2020 framework.

Altogther, this report gave a picture of a new kind of an online resource environment. At the same time it invited the users to consider their own innovation paths and to think of their own ways to shape training with Theme Rooms.

I guess this is enough of the latest reports and of the messages I want to pass at the final phase of the project. Now that I am finishing my career as an active researcher, I have the feeling of being a runner with the torch of the Olympic Games. I am coming to the point in which I have to had out the torch for new runners – the ones in research, the ones in the software development and the ones developing their training approaches. My message to them is the following: You need to take the fire from the past, not the ashes. And: You need not go back to the long and winding roads of your predecessors – you need to find each other in the present date circumstances.

More blogs to come … (but from a different perspective)

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Multiplier Event of TACCLE4 CPD project – Part Two: Presenting the LTB-Showcase of the TACCLE4 CPD project

October 18th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I gave a report on the Multiplier Event of our current EU-funded project TACCLE4 CPD. The event took place on Friday the 16th of October in the German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in North-Germany. As regular readers of this blog know, Bau-ABC was an important application partner in our earlier EU-funded project Learning Layers (2012 – 2017). Their collaboration was crucial for the development of the main product of the project – the digital toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB). As I have also reported, how the LTB has been used across the training centre in all apprentice training programs.

During the current project I have made several working visits to Bau-ABC. On several occasions I have discussed with  Bau-ABC trainers on challenges and perspectives for promoting digital competences in the context of vocational learning. These interviews gave me plenty of food for thought when I prepared my reports for the project. In the previous post I gave an account on my input and reported briefly on the discussions that we had during the session. I also mentioned that I had prepared a showcase that was powered by the LTB. In this post I try to give insights into the showcase and its contents.

The idea of preparing an LTB-showcase for TACCLE4 CPD project

I have already presented the LTB Showcase of the LTB-developers in an earlier blog post. In that showcase they had given on overview of several conferences and online events in which LTB had been used to produce ePosters for the respective events. Given the success of these ePosters, the LTB-developers had created the format of showcase to select the ePosters of one event under a common banner. With regular users they had created cumulative showcases that contain ePosters of several years. With this newest showcase the LTB-developers had provided an overview on different user-events. And by tagging the individual ePosters with the name of the user-event they made it possible for the viewers to access the specific showcase of that event. In this way I became aware that there had already been a case in which an Erasmus+ project had organised a virtual multiplier event by creating an LTB-showcase for the project and then making it accessible for virtual participants.

This gave me inspiration of preparing a similar showcase to support the forthcoming Multiplier Event that was under preparation. I understand that I have used specific terminology that doesn’t necessarily communicate clearly, what kind of product I was making. Perhaps one can characterise an ePoster (which is technically an LTB-stack) as a digital bookshelf that contains a collection of digital documents and other digital resources. The showcase that contains several ePosters (or LTB-stacks) can then be characterised as a small digital library. And the major showcases of the conferences can then be characterised as major ‘thematic libraries’, whilst the overarching LTB Showacase is a central library that refers to the ‘thematic libraries’.

Overview on the contents of the TACCLE4 CPD Showcase

Below I will first present screenshots of the contents of the showcase and of the banner that links them to each other:

I guess that the screenshots above give an impression of the kind of digital contents that have been packed to the showcase. Some of these contents have been prepared as ePosters for conferences. Some have been prepared as LTB-stacks that present project reports for the TACCLE4 CPD and Learning Layers projects.

I guess this is enough for a moment. Later on I will prepare a separate report that gives more detailed insights into the contents and explains how they can be accessed.

More blogs to come …

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Multiplier Event of TACCLE4 CPD project – Part One: Report on the event in Bau-ABC Rostrup

October 18th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last Friday, the 16th of October, I was pleased to visit the German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup once again. As regular readers of this blog already know, I have been working together with this training centre for several years. Our cooperation started when our institute (Institut Technik & Bildung, ITB) and Bau-ABC became partners of the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project in the year 2012. During the LL project we worked intensively together in the co-design process that led to the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) and in training activities to promote the digital competences of the trainers in Bau-ABC. After the end of the project (2017) I maintained contact with Bau-ABC and was pleased to continue working with them when I became the ITB partner in the EU-funded TACCLE4 CPD project (2018 -2020). This newer project gave me an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the earlier one and to develop models and strategies for continuing professional development (CPD) of vocational teachers and trainers. Now, at the final phase of the project I was pleased to visit Bau-ABC and to organise the German Multiplier Event of the current project together with trainers of Bau-ABC. Below I will give a brief account on the event as such and in my next post I will discuss the contribution that I prepared for the event – a new LTB-showcase of LTB-powered stacks that I prepared for the TACCLE4 CPD project.

The preparation of the Multiplier Event – the long and winding roads

Originally I had prepared the initial plan for such an event together with my ITB colleagues. We had the idea of a bridging event that links the results of the TACCLE4 CPD project to their ongoing work with Open Educational Resources (OER) and with new developments with artificial intelligence (AI) in the field of vocational education and training (VET). We had drafted an invitation list that would bring together vocational teachers and trainers from different organisations – vocational schools and training centres – in the nearby region. The event was supposed to take place in June – between two travel periods when I was working outside Germany. BUT the corona-crisis made it impossible to implement these plans. Instead of returning to Bremen at that time I had to stay a longer period in my home country Finland. And due to the lockdown and the subsequent restrictions it was not possible to organise any presence event at the university campus before the summer holidays. Neither could we expect that vocational teachers and trainers could have had time to participate in such events when the schools and training centres were able to start anew at the end of May.

During the summer months it became apparent that there will be no chance to organise any kind of face-to-face event with external participants at the university campus. On the contrary, the access of university researchers and supporting staff was strictly restricted  and meetings were transformed into online events. From this perspective it seemed impossible to go further with plans that would include inputs from different projects and bring together participants from different organisations. For some time it seemed that the only way to implement the Multiplier Event would be to produce a pre-recorded webinar and then invite online participants to access the online material. However, due to the travel restrictions I was stuck in Finland and even if I could have returned earlier, it would have been difficult to put together a good quality online resource to attract participants at the beginning of a new school year or the training period of apprentices.

When returning to Bremen in the beginning of October I didn’t have high hopes of getting a decent multiplier event organised (whether as a face-to-face event or as a virtual even). However, things changed when I contacted Melanie Campbell, coordinator of Continuing Vocational Training at Bau-ABC and the key person for promoting the use of LTB  during the LL project and afterwards. We came to a conclusion that it would be possible to have a face-to-face event on Friday, the 16th of October in the afternoon (when the apprentices had already left for the weekend but the trainers were still there). We agreed on the input that I would make on the TACCLE4-CPD project (and the earlier LL project) and on her input concerning the current use of LTB in Bau-ABC.

The inputs for the Multiplier Event

So, we had the short time frame of two hours on Friday afternoon at our disposal – just as had been the case with the Theme Room training sessions in November 2015. This time there were additional challenges due to the corona restrictions and due to the fact that some of trainers were tied up with examination duties. But, with the thirteen trainers representing different trades and different training activities we had a qualified audience.

In my input I tried to give a picture, how three aspects of fieldwork in Bau-ABC became vital threads of the work of the Learning Layers project and its Construction pilot:

  • Joint analyses of work processes ans work-realated learning in different trades of construction sector;
  • Co-design of the digital toolset Learning Toolbox and different design events with trainers, apprentices and construction sector professionals who all gave their views, how a digital toolset could support them;
  • Multimedia training and ThemeRoom training that paved the way for the introduction of the LTB as a toolset that is being used regularly in the apprentice training and vocational learning activities provided by Bau-ABC.

In a similar way I emphasised the special approach to the field of vocational education and training (VET) to promoting digital competences and to shaping continuing professional development of teachers and trainers:

  • We are not discussing merely about integrating the use of digital tools to teaching school subjects. Instead, the challenge is, how to link the use of tools to vocational learning and occupational work.
  • We are not discussing merely about use of new educational technology to support school-based learning. As a contrast, the challenge is, how to link the use of appropriate digital toolsets that contribute to changes in working life and work-related learning.
  • We are not merely talking about promotion of digital competences of individual teachers (responsible of their subject matter). As a contrast, the holistic approach to vocational learning requires that teachers and trainers have a common approach to using digital tools.

In the light of the above I made the point of different innovation paths for introducing the use of digital tools. In this context I referred to different ITB projects that I had described in my reports:

  • The Kompetenzwerkstatt projects have been (re)designing the curricula (as a whole) for different vocational learning contexts. Here, the use of digital tools has been built in into specific curriculum processes.
  • The Learning Toolbox has been introduced as a new integrative toolset to be used in exemplary learning projects and to be spread in further projects via internal knowledge transfer and peer tutoring.
  • The Brofessio project had to deal with process industry cases in which the processes were sealed and could not be made transparent for learning in the context of work. As a contrast, it was necessary to introduce micro-learning units for off-the-job training to support work-related learning.
  • The use cases of introducing Opene Educational Resources (OER) were taken from specific vocational of pre-vocational learning contexts. Altogether they opened a perspective from relatively simple exercises to more complex uses of high-tech resources and to collaborative learning that involves learners from different trades.

Finally, I discussed the Theme Room experience of the year 2015 and the rethinking of the Theme Room approach for present date use. Firstly, I emphasised that the concept of training with Theme Rooms was a well-thought format but we couldn’t benefit of all the richness since we couldn’t integrate the use of LTB to the training. Secondly, I emphasised the need of making a situation assessment on the challenges in the occupational fields, on the capability of trainers and learners regarding the use of digital tools and on the path to follow in the training. In this respect I underlined that the Theme Room Training 2020 framework (that I had drafted for the project) invites the users the design their own theme rooms with their own themes instead of following a ready-made guideline.

 

The discussion takes off – coming together

When opening the discussion Melanie Campbell pointed to the importance of the Theme Room training in 2015 as atraining campaign for all trainers of Bau-ABC. The aim was to bring the digital competences of trainers to an equal level – as much as this could be achieved. Since then the use of LTB in different trades has taken the main attention and the practical issues have come up as the main concerns.

In the discussion many trainers brought into picture different problems that delimit the use of LTB at the training sites. Partly these are of infrastructural nature, partly there are difficulties in using the functions of LTB with given software solutions. Thus, the trainers have noticed that LTB is frequently used over the weekend. Melanie Campbell took note of these issues and suggested that similar Friday afternoon sessions should be used for troubleshooting and for sharing knowledge, how to overcome the difficulties.

Some of the trainers made the point that the Theme Rooms should be brought back to picture. Others commented that more emphasis should be given on overcoming the problems and getting more users at same level. Once this has been achieved, then it would be possible to take further steps in deepening the understanding on digital tools.

Altogether, the discussion reflected the situation in a training centre that had the experience of being early users of digital tools. In this respect it seemed that a period of “Theme Forums” would be needed to deal with the current problems befor heading to new cycle of Theme Rooms. Yet, when looking back at the earlier phases of the Learning Layers project in 2014 and 2015, the ones of us who had shared experiences of that time could agree that we come a long way further. Indeed, much of what we discussed as something desirable, had become lived practice of present date.

I guess that this is enough of the event and of our discussions. In my next post I will give insights into the LTB-showcase of the TACCLE4 CPD project that I presented in the event.

More blogs to come …

 

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New report for TACCLE 4 CPD on Artificial Intelligence and progress with Learning Toolbox

September 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of last year I wrote a series of blog posts with which I presented a set of reports that I had delivered for the EU-funded project TACCLE4 CPD. As regular readers of this blog know, the aim of the project is to design models for continuing professional development (CPD) that focus on promoting digital competences of teachers and trainers. The earlier TACCLE projects had focused mainly on school-based and subject-based learning in general education. However, in the concept of the current project the aim was also to address also the  field of vocational education and training (VET). From this perspective our institute, Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) was invited as the partner responsible for VET.

During the work I found it necessary to prepare special VET-related reports to clarify the boundary conditions, specific needs and emerging potentials for shaping VET-related approaches to promoting digital competences. From this perspective I presented in November and December 2019 the following set of  VET-related reports:

  • Report 1: Policy analyses (with focus on different contexts, approaches and strategies to promote digital competences in the field of VET
  • Report 2: Legacy of predecessor projects (with a differentiated interpretation of the approaches of prior TACCLE projects and the Learning Layers project)
  • Report 3: Use of Open Educational Resources in VET (with specific insights into the opportunities to use OER in particular vocational learning contexts)
  • Report 4a: Research-based reflections on strategies and training models (with specific emphasis on different innovation paths and feedback from practitioners)
  • Report 4b: The “Theme Room Training 2020” framework (as an outline of a training concept for the field of VET, based on different thematic blocks)

At that time I felt that the series of VET-related reports had been completed.

Elements on the report – training on Artificial Intelligence and uses of Learning Toolbox

During the later phase of the TACCLE4 CPD project I had some exchanges with the newest TACCLE project on Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Education and Training (AI and VET). I visited their kick-off meeting and learned about their project plans. Then I became aware of the Finnish  initiative “Elements of Artificial Intelligence” that was promoted as important civic learning for the whole civil society. And later on I got access to the first report on the project AI and VET and became aware of the issues that they had explored in the initial phase of their work. This gave rise to a blog post on the challenges for civic learning (in general) and for VET providers (in particular).

In addition to this I have had intensive exchanges with the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) who were our former partners from the Learning Layers (LL) project (see my previous blogs). In this way I got information, how training centres equipped their apprentices for independent learning during the corona crisis – with the help of LTB-stacks. Also, I learned how the LTB-developers made use of the quiet period by preparing new instructions and demonstration videos. Furthermore, I learned of the successful use of LTB as support for ePosters in online conferences and workshops. Finally, the publishing of the new Learning Toolbox Showcase made transparent the wide range of conferences and themes that had been covered by numerous ePosters. I have shared this information by publishing several blog posts.

The idea of a new report takes shape

When writing this blogs I was focusing on separate issues. And indeed – the themes ‘training on artificial intelligence’ and ‘reporting on successful use of Learning Toolbox’ seemed to be different cups of tea (or different pairs of shoes). However, once I got further with the blogs on using Learning Toolbox – during the training in exceptional times and in the transformation of conferences into online events – I found a new perspective. Both themes can be treated with the help of a similar (non-linear) story line: facing a challenge – search for an approach – finding a solution – piloting with innovation – facing new challenges with the innovation – transfer of innovation. In this context I wanted to draw attention to the ideas that came up with the training initiatives that link to each other civic learning and vocational learning when introducing artificial intelligence in working life. Furthermore, I wanted to underline the aspect of re-inventing the ordinary practice when adjusting vocational learning or conference cultures into new constraints – when contact learning and presence events are no longer available. As I see it, the work with Learning Toolbox has progressed in a fantastic way but remains work in progress.

The report “Promoting digital competences beyond the accustomed realm of ICT skills – New challenges for civic learning and continuing professional development” is already available on ResearchGate and will be published on the website of the TACCLE4 CPD project.

With these reflections this report completes the series of VET-related reports for the TACCLE4 CPD project. As I see it, this report links current expertise on promoting digital competences to future-oriented challenges and to continuing professional development in real working life. We have put a lot of effort in this project but there is a lot of work for future projects.

More blogs to come …

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