Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Remembering Gerhard Zimmer

July 10th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday – after a long delay – I got the sad news that my friend of old, professor Gerhard Zimmer had passed away. As I read from the ‘In Memoriam’ text written by his former colleagues, this has happened already in March this year. At that time I had already left Bremen and was on my way back to Finland. Whatever the cause of delay, it is appropriate to dedicate some words to the memory of my dear friend and to pass my condolences to the ones who loved him.

Here, to be sure, I cannot give a comprehensive overview of Gerhard’s lifework. In this respect I am better off referring the text “Nachruf auf Prof. Dr. Gerhard Zimmer (19. Februar 1943 – 7. März 2020)” (see https://www.bwpat.de/in-erinnerung) and to Gerhard’s profile page at the author archive of the said journal (see https://www.bwpat.de/autor/zimmer). What I can at best do on this blog is to give a brief account on the way we got acquainted, on the time that we have had together in Berlin and on our later encounters. All this is flavoured with memories, how Gerhard supported me as a younger colleague, making contacts with German researchers, getting to know Berlin and sharing experiences of our contexts of work.

Visiting Germany as a an emerging researcher – Gerhard as a true supporter (1989 – 1993)

I learned to know Gerhard personally during my long study visit across West Germany and Berlin in October/November 1989. During five weeks’ time I visited quite a number of research institutes in the field of vocational education and training (VET) starting from ITB (University of Bremen) and ending with several institutes in Berlin, among others the Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung (BiBB). I knew quite a lot of the researchers and their institutes via literature, but of course it was a rich experience to learn to know them and their colleagues in person. This was also the case with Gerhard, of whom I already knew his involvement in the Projektgruppe Automation und Qualifikation. Now that he was based in the department for continuing vocational training (CVT) in BiBB, he could provide interesting insights into the development of qualifications (based on the field studies) and on the initiatives to enhance the competences of skilled workers (based on the newer pilot projects – Modellversuche).

One year later, during the days of German unification (October 1990) I was again in Germany, on the way to a West-German conference (Hochschultage berufliche Bildung) in Magdeburg (then East Germany) and had a stop-over in Berlin at Gerald’s place. At that time we were able to make plans for his forthcoming visit to Finland, to attend the Finnish Educational Research Association (December 1990) as a guest speaker alongside Ulrich Teichler (Higher Education research) and Gerald Heidegger (also VET research). In that context Gerhard also visited with me another Finnish conference on VET research – and to his great surprise realised that he could follow fluently the the presenter who spoke Swedish. Some time later I was again in Berlin with a delegation of VET teachers for business administration. This visit provided yet another opportunity for exchange of information and sharing knowledge.

Nächste Station: Berlin – Gerhard as a local guide

From 1994 to 1995 I worked as a national seconded expert at Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational  Training). At that time Cedefop was still located in Berlin, whilst Finland was in the transition process of becoming a  Member State of the EU. Moreover, BiBB was still located mainly in Bremen (but the clock was ticking for the relocation to Bonn. Anyway, at that time we were almost next door neighbours. So, there were several joint meetings and then we had also some cultural activities. From the latter ones I remember especially our joint visit to Bertolt Brecht’s summer residence outside Berlin.

During this period I learned to know more closely several of Gerhard’s colleagues in BiBB and in its partner organisations. A special highlight of that time was the conference in Köln (Cologne) on Accompanying research as contribution to VET research (Modellversuchsforschung als Berufsbildungsforschung). For me the participation in this conference was of great importance, having read quite a lot of reports of this genre of research and now being able to witness the discussions in person. Also, looking back, the conference proceedings that were published provide important insights into the development of such research as well as visions for future research. Here, among Gerhard, I need to mention his colleague Peter Dehnbostel as major contributors from BiBB and from the host oragnisation Peter Sloane and his team. Another highlight of that period was the inaugural event of the German activities of the EU action programme Leonardo da Vinci that took place in Berlin. (Little did I know, how much I would become involved with the implementation of that programme in the years to come.)

From Berlin to Thessaloniki and back to Finland – occasional encounters but of importance (1995 – 2004)

In the year 1995 Cedefop was relocated to Thessaloniki, Greece and I became a temporary EU official working there from 1995 to 2002. From that point on I was no longer a Finnish liaison officer based in Berlin (with main contacts with the German experts in the city). Instead, I was working for the European research community in the field of VET, facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing among European projects. So, I was mainly engaged with colleagues who were preparing and managing EU-funded projects or facilitating them in national agencies. At this phase I was very much working together with colleagues at ITB.

During this period BiBB was also relocated to Bonn and some of the colleagues chose to leave BiBB. So, firstly Gerhard and then latterly Peter Dehnbostel took professor positions in VET research at the University of Armed Forces – latterly renamed as Helmut-Schmidt-University – in Hamburg. The challenge for the new professors was to set up new curricula with focus on VET beyond vocational teacher education. The professor chairs were allocated to curricula that provided civilian career options for young army officers after their contract periods in the army. Concerning their research activities, Gerhard engaged his team with Open Distance Learning (ODL) and with eLearning in VET and vocational higher education. Peter was busily involved with studies on new competence frameworks based on validation of non-formal learning and on trade unions’ initiatives to promote continuing professional development. Altogether, they created an intellectual neighbourhood that enriched the VET research culture in Germany.

During my time in Thessaloniki I had less chance to follow these developments in Hamburg. Yet, when I returned to Finland and sought for a new orientation, my contacts with Gerhard and Peter became important anchor points, alongside ITB in Bremen. This became apparent during the conferences in the year 2003 (ABWF-Quem Zukunftsforum in Berlin and ECER in Hamburg). In the next phase the study visit with vocational teacher educators from Jyväskylä to Hamburg and Bremen opened new doors to me. I am very grateful for Gerhard, Peter and their team members as well as for colleagues in ITB for their support during this period.

Letzte Stationen: Bremen & Berlin (2005 -2018)

As a follow-up of my re-established contacts with my German colleagues I started to work as a senior researcher at ITB in 2005. Once again, I was in the middle of European projects and international networking. However, this time I was busily involved also in preparing funding bids and jumping from previous projects to new ones (which were not necessarily direct follow-up activities). Thus, paradoxically, the contacts with my friends in Hamburg started to fade away. And also, both Gerhard and Peter went on retirement and stayed in Berlin and in Bonn.

Then, after several years of silence, I took the initiative to arrange a “Klassentreffen” with the friends of old from the Berlin period of BiBB. I was attending a concert in Berlin and alongside that trip I wanted to meet Berlin-based friends. In this context I had a lengthy session with Gerhard at his place – revisiting our shared experiences and memories of different phases of our careers. Now, we had also new topics to discuss, based on my work at ITB and the projects working with digital tools to support project-based vocational learning. And – looking back – we could also value the work of the Projektgruppe Automation und Qualifikation as an early representative of social shaping of work and technology. At the end of the day we then had an inspiring dinner near the old premises of Cedefop in Berlin with several friends from the early days.

I guess these memories give an impression of Gerhard Zimmer as a colleague and friend – a person with whom I had shared interests and shared values. Now he is gone but good memories are there.

Rest in peace, Gerhard!

Updates on the corona crisis – What news from field activities with the Learning Toolbox?

June 5th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In some of my recent posts I have discussed the impact of the corona crisis on education, training and learning as well as on conferences that are of interest to us. In my latest blogchat session with developers and promoters of the Learning Toolbox – Gilbert Peffer and Werner Müller – I was able to get more insights into the current activities in the field: What is happening currently with the use of LTB to support education, training and learning during and after the lockdown period? What is happening with the use of LTB as support for conferences that are being organised as online events? I will start with the conferences and then proceed to the field activities in education and training.

What news on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) in conferences

As I have told in my recent posts (on the impact of the Learning Layers project), the Learning Toolbox (LTB) was developed primarily to support vocational and workplace learning. However, a very successful spin-off prospect emerged when LTB was used to prepare ePosters (supported with mini-posters on poster walls or cubicles). This kind of complementary use of ePosters alongside other modes of presentation started to spread already before the corona crisis.

Now that many conferences have sought ways to convert face-to-face events into online events, the prospect of using ePosters as a major solution has been taken up by several conference organisers. Here, new arrangements have been made to keep the ePosters visible online already during a pre-conference period. Then, during the actual conference period, particular sets of ePosters have been discussed in batches in online sessions. Now this mode of work is taking up and will probably sustain even after the exceptional period. For the developers and key promoters of LTB this has reduced travelling to conference venues and participation in face-to-face events. Instead, they have done more online tutoring and customisation of the use of LTB with supporting online communication services.

What news on the use of Learning Toolbox as support for vocational and workplace learning

Whilst the lockdown has given a push to conference organisers in finding new solutions to prepare online events with larger scale, the picture in the field of vocational education and training (VET) varies. As we have seen it, the transition from classroom teaching into online learning has been implemented rapidly in general education and higher education. For vocational and workplace learning such a transition has not been an easy exercise. In particular the intermediate training centres (that support work process oriented learning in simulated learning spaces) have gone through hard times. In Germany these organisers have been interested in promoting the use of LTB in education and training. Now, due to the lockdown, some advanced training centres – in particular the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup – have managed to provide LTB stacks to support independent learning of apprentices during the closure period. However, in other training centres the lockdown has interrupted the process of getting a core group of trainers to promote the use of LTB in several trades. Moreover, the reopening of the centres just before the examination period has provided additional challenges.

I think these were the most important messages that I need to share in my blog. In addition to these general impressions I had some further thoughts concerning the designed Multiplier Event of the ongoing TACCLE4 CPD project that we want to organise by the end of the project. As I see it know, it is not likely that we can organise it as a face-to-face event – whether before the summer holiday period or shortly after it. And since we need to organise an online event, we still have to think about the arrangements and the timing.

As we have a short time to complete the tasks for the project, we need to opt for a prerecorded webinar or a series of short webinars. And with this arrangement we need to think of a flexible mode of participation  within a flexible time frame. In this way we can probably adjust this event to the time constraints of the designed participants – teachers and trainers in the field of VET. As we have seen it, it is essential to provide new impulses at a time when the potential participants have time and energy to work with the content we provide for discussion.

These were my preliminary thoughts. I need to have further discussions with my colleagues who are supporting me in the TACCLE4 CPD project. Let us see where we can get in the coming times.

More blogs to come …

 

Reflections on the impact of the Learning Layers project – Part Four: What all has contributed to the sustainability of the Learning Toolbox?

April 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my three previous posts I have started a series of blogs that report on the discussions of former partners of the Learning Layers (LL) project on the impact of our work. The discussion started, when I published a blog post on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) in the training centre Bau-ABC to support independent learning while the centre is closed. This triggered a discussion, how the digital toolset Learning Toolbox – a key result from our EU-funded R&D project – is being used in other contexts. This then gave rise to collect such experiences and to start a joint reflection on the impact of our work.

In the first post I gave an overview of this process. In the second post I presented the main points that I and my co-author Gilbert Peffer outlined on the use of LTB to support vocational and workplace-based learning in the construction sector. In the third post I gave insights into the use of LTB in other contexts based on spin-off innovations and on refocusing the use of the toolset. With this concluding post I try to summarise – from my perspective – what factors have contributed to the sustainability of the Learning Toolbox. Here I will make use of some aspects that were outlined for the authors of particular case studies that were brought together in our joint discussion. The points that I present below reflect the views of me and my co-author Gilbert Peffer on our experiences with the construction pilot of the LL project and its follow-up phase.

Strong focus on co-design and stakeholder engagement

As we see it, the co-design, pilot implementation and wider deployment of LTB in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup underlines the importance of well-functioning research & development dialogue. Many elements in the project design of Learning Layers provided favourable starting points – e.g. the emphasis on co-design practices, iterative processes and flexible teamwork. Yet, during the work, the partners had to find their ways – time and again – to adjust the guiding principles, the practical pedagogic orientations and possible software solutions to each other.

Flexible collaboration between partners during the follow-up phases of the project

By the end of the project it was not certain, in what ways the innovations could be sustained and the collaboration between researchers, technical partners and practitioners could be continued. From this perspective it was essential that the developers of the LTB and the accompanying researchers from research institute ITB  took several initiatives to launch follow-up activities with partner organisations  in the construction sector. These efforts were not always successful in terms of acquisition of new funded projects. Yet, they provided new insights into potential use of the LTB in organisational contexts and between dispersed work processes.

Rethinking the contextual opportunities and applying technology in previously unforeseen contexts

Due to many intervening factors the progress with the follow-up activities had not been a direct process of  scaling up the innovation. Instead, the interested partners have had to find new paths for working further with the Learning Toolbox in new contexts. Partly the success in using Learning Toolbox in vocational training and partly the spread of using ePosters in conferences have inspired new users. Partly the feasibility studies in the construction sector have opened new prospects for using Learning Toolbox for organisational knowledge sharing – as has been the case latterly in the healthcare sector.

Shaping of R&D projects as innovation hubs/ platforms

On this point our experiences suggest a common success conclusion: R&D projects should not be understood and planned out as mere research studies. Neither should they be looking for allegedly integrated solutions (‘one size fits all’, ‘one format suits all’). Instead, they should rather be shaped as networked innovation hubs or platforms. In such context research elements can receive initial validation and a team to start an innovation process. As we see it, the strength in the construction pilot of the LL project was the continuity of a participative research & development dialogue that kept the processes vivid and helped to overcome difficult periods. Moreover, the multiple support activities helped the practitioners to take ownership of the innovation and become multipliers of new practices.

I guess this is enough of our reflections for the moment. I will get back when we know, on what forum and in what way we will be presenting our joint findings and conclusions from all case studies.

More blogs to come …

 

Reflections on the impact of the Learning Layers project – Part Three: The use of Learning Toolbox in new contexts

April 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my two latest posts I have started a series of blogs that report on the discussions of former partners of the Learning Layers (LL) project on the impact of our work. As I have told earlier, the discussion started, when I published a blog post on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB)  in the training centre Bau-ABC to support independent learning while the centre is closed. This triggered a discussion, how the digital toolset Learning Toolbox – a key result from our EU-funded R&D project – is being used in other contexts. And – as I also told earlier – this gave rise to the initiative  of the leader of the Learning Layers consortium to collect such experiences and to start a joint reflection on the impact of our work. In the first post I gave an overview of this process of preparing a joint paper. In the second post I presented the main points that I and my co-author Gilbert Peffer presented on the use of LTB to support vocational and workplace-based learning in the construction sector. In this post I try to give insights into the use of LTB in other contexts based on spin-off innovations and on refocusing the use of the toolset. Firstly I will focus on the development of ePosters (powered by LTB) in different conferences. Secondly I will give a brief picture on the use of LTB for knowledge sharing in the healthcare sector.

Insights into the development of ePosters powered by LTB

Here I do not wish to repeat the picture of the evolution of the ePosters – as a spin-off innovation of the LTB as it has been delivered by the responsible co-authors. Instead, I try to give firstly my impressions of the initial phase of this innovative use of LTB to support poster presenters in conferences. Then, I will give a glimpse, how we tried to present the ePoster approach to the European Conference on Educational Research and to the VETNET network. Here I can refer to my blog posts of that time. Then I will add some information on the current phase of developing the work with ePosters – as presented by the responsible authors for the joint paper on the impact of LL tools.

  • In October 2017 I became familiar with the breakthrough experience that the developers of the LTB and the coordinator of the healthcare pilot of the LL project had had with the development of ePosters for conferences. In the annual conference of medical educators (AMEE 2017) they had introduced the ePosters (prepared as LTB stacks) as alternatives for traditional paper posters and for expensive digital posters. At that time I published an introductory blog post – mainly based on their texts  and pictures. Foe me, this was a great start to be followed by others. Especially the use of poster cubicles to present  mini-posters that provided links to the full ePosters was very impressive. Another interesting format was the use of ePosters attached to Round Tables or Poster Arenas was interesting.

  • In the year 2018 we from ITB together with the LTB-developers and with the coordinator of the VETNET network took the initiative to bring the use of ePosters into the European Conference on Educational Research 2018 in Bolzano/ Bozen, Italy. We initiated a network project of the VETNET network (for research in vocational education and training) to serve as a pioneering showcase for the entire ECER community. In this context we invited all poster presenters of the VETNET program to prepare ePosters and the LTB-developers provided instructions and tutoring for them. Finally, at the conference, we had the ePoster session and a special session to e approach for other networks. This process was documented by two blog posts – on September 2nd and on September 11th – and by a detailed report for the European Educational Reseaarch Association. The LTB-stacks stacks for the ePosters can be found here, below you have screenshots of the respective web page.

  • In the light of the above the picture that the promoters of ePosters have presented now is amazing.  The first pilot was with a large, international medical education conference in 2017. In 2018 it was used at 6 conferences across Europe. In 2019 this number grew to 14 and also included US conferences. The forecast for 2020 is that it will be used by more than 30 conferences with growth in the US being particularly strong.  The  feedback from users and the number of returning customers  suggest that the solution is valued by the stakeholders.

Insights into the use of LTB in the healthcare sector

Here I am relying on the information that has been provided by the coordinator of the healthcare pilot of the Learning Layers and by the former partners from the healthcare sector. Therefore, I do not want to go into details. However, it is interesting to see, how the use of LTB has been repurposed to support knowledge sharing between the healthcare services across a wide region. This is what the colleagues have told us of the use of LTB:

“LTB has been used to create stacks for each practice and thereby improve the accessibility of the practice reports as well as to enable the sharing of additional resources which could not be included in the main report due to space. The app has thus improved the range of information that can be shared, and links are also shared which allow users to read more in-depth into the topic areas. The use of LTB has also enabled the spread of information more widely, as the team suggested that the stack poster (a paper-based poster displaying the link to the stack and a QR code) should be displayed in the practice to allow any interested staff to access the stack and resources. The use of the stack also allows for all the information to be kept by interested staff in one central place, so previous reports and resources can be referred back to at any point. It can also be accessed via a personal mobile device, so gives the opportunity for users to access the information at the most convenient time for them, and without the need to have the paper report or to log in to a system.”

I guess this is enough of the parallel developments in using the LTB after the end of the LL project and alongside the follow-up in the construction sector. In the final post of this series I will discuss some points that have supported the sustainability of the innovation and contributed to the wider use of the LTB.

More blogs to come …

 

Reflections on the impact of the Learning Layers project – Part Two: The use of Learning Toolbox in vocational learning and construction work

April 28th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my latest post I started a series of blogs that report on the discussions of former partners of the Learning Layers (LL) project on the impact of our work. This was triggered by reports  that the key result of our work – the Learning Toolbox – is being used in the original pilot context (training for construction work) and is getting new users. In particular this discussion was inspired by the fact that such tools gain new importance in the period of corona crisis, when schools and training centres are closed and traditional conferences are being cancelled. In my previous blog I gave a brief overview on the discussions that we have had and on the joint paper that we have been preparing. In this blog I will summarise some key points that I and my co-author Gilbert Peffer have raised on the case that we have presented – the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. Below I will use our draft text (that was shaped as responses to given questions) as a slightly edited version.

The pioneering Case: Learning Toolbox in the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup

The Learning Toolbox was developed in the Learning Layers project as a response to the needs of the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup (a major application partner from the construction sector). The initial design idea referred to digitisation of training materials, instruction sheets, project reporting sheets and self-assessment procedures. However, in the course of  iterative co-design cycles, the process took the course towards shaping an interactive toolset to support training and learning activities.

What particular problems were addressed in the co-design process?

In Bau-ABC Rostrup the apprentices spend relatively short periods (one or two weeks at a time) and are trained by full-time trainers who are Meisters (master craftsmen) in their trade. During each period they complete a project in the respective trade. Then, they move back to their companies or have another training period in a supporting trade. In general, the projects are based on genuine work tasks that are implemented in a workshop or at outdoor training areas.

Previously, the instructions for the apprentices’ projects had been provided orally with the help of instructive worksheets (for preparing the project plans). Likewise, the reporting on the projects was done manually. In principle, the project cycle was based on self-organised learning – independent search for knowledge resources, drafting the plan plan, reporting the implementation and then assessing the outcome. The functionality of Learning Toolbox – based on trade-specific stacks that consisted of different tiles – provided support for learning when completing the work tasks.

Stakeholders who have been involved in the co-design process and pilot activities

The co-design work was carried out as a collaborative process by researchers, technical partners and full-time trainers from Bau-ABC. During an earlier phase of the work the project team provided basic multimedia training for some voluntary trainers. At a later phase the project team and these trainers provided an intensive training campaign for all trainers of the training centre. In the pilot testing of the Learning Toolbox a core group of trainers introduced the toolset in their training and results were monitored by the project team. Also, at the final phase of the project, the use of the Learning Toolbox as support for construction work processes was demonstrated for several craft trade companies. As a result, follow-up processes (feasibility studies and project initiatives) were started with some companies.

How have the training practices been changed and what new practices have emerged?

The functionality of the Learning Toolbox was easy to be customised for different training purposes and according to the pedagogic priorities of the trainers. Thus, it made it easier for the trainers to emphasise independent searches among a wide range of web resources. (This was essential for borehole builders who were working alone on remote construction sites). Also, it made it possible to give learners a gradual access to a wider range of resources (and to solutions of their peers) once they had learned to develop their own solutions to the project tasks. (This was essential for the road-builders and pipeline-builders.) Moreover, apprentices were encouraged to document their projects with the Learning Toolbox. This enabled the instructors to see progress of their apprentices in real time and provide more timely feedback. The LTB has also strengthened the self-organisation of the instructors in terms of streamlining their content and sharing common resources between the different professions. While this approach to collaborative training was already there at Bau-ABC, the LTB offered a further channel to systematise this practice. Altogether, the co-design process has been characterised by a continuing research & development dialogue that has been underpinned by the accompanying research approach of the research institute ITB, University of Bremen.

What has been the impact so far and what can be expected in the near future? 

After the project the use of the Learning Toolbox was spread across all trades in which Bau-ABC Rostrup provides apprentice training. Consequently, the apprentices have started to complete their projects with the help of the Learning Toolbox. Based on this pioneering case, other German training centres in the construction sector are in the process of adopting the Learning Toolbox both for initial VET and for continuing VET. There are also teacher groups at a number of medical faculties in Germany who have adopted the LTB for practice training. Due to the closure of the training centres because of the COVID19-epidemic the trainers of Bau-ABC Rostrup have prepared trade-specific stacks with the Learning Toolbox to support independent learning.

What have been key aspects for sustaining this initiative so long after the project 

Altogether, the co-design process, the piloting phase and the follow-up phase have been characterised by intensive research & development dialogue (underpinned by an accompanying a research approach that dovetails with the co-design process), adjustment of the tool development to the pedagogic approach of the trainers and to the effort to promote self-organised learning of apprentices. In addition, the project work and the follow-up has been characterised by strong support from the accompanying researchers of ITB. Furthermore, the trainers of Bau-ABC have become strong multipliers of innovation both within their organisation and in their networking with other training centres and partner companies. At the end of the project it was not certain, how the innovations could be sustained and spread. In the construction sector it was essential that the developers of the Learning Toolbox and the accompanying researchers from ITB took several initiatives to launch follow-up activities with construction companies.

I think these were the main points that we (I and Gilbert) wanted to bring into discussion in this process. In my next post I will take a quick look at the other cases that were explored in our discussions.

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Reflections on the impact of the Learning Layers project – Part One: New discussions in the project consortium

April 28th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Three weeks ago I published a blog post in which I reported on the use of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support vocational learning during the corona crisis. I shared it on the mailing list of the partners of the former Learning Layers project consortium. As an immediate reaction some partners from the UK healthcare sector informed, how they have made wide use of LTB among general practice (GP) units for sharing knowledge on the patterns to prescribe certain medications. Also, this exchange of messages brought into picture the growing use of LTB as support for e-posters (see my previous post).

This gave rise to the initiative of Tobias Ley, the leader of the former Learning Layers consortium, to report on such sustainable use of Learning Layers tools after the end of the project in a conference paper. And this led to a rapid process of collaborative writing that involved several research partners of the former consortium. The results are now being finalised and will be presented in the respective conference (provided that the proposal will be accepted). Therefore, it would be premature to discuss our findings in toto before the submission has been reviewed and accepted. However, I think that it is appropriate to discuss some of the cases that were examined in this discussion and some lessons that I and my co-author Gilbert Peffer have highlighted in our contributions to this process.

Altogether, this has been an interesting collaborative reflection process that brought together several partners that have been working with the two pilot sectors of the project (construction and healthcare). Also, it has given us a fresh picture on the development of the ePosters (powered by LTB) as a spin-off innovation emerging from the Learning Layers project. So, in my next posts I will discuss different topics that were taken up in our joint discussions.

More blogs to come …

Updates on the corona crisis – What news from the conference fronts?

April 17th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few weeks my blog posts have been overshadowed by the corona crisis – for obvious reasons. So far I have discussed the impact on European cooperation projects and for their designed events. I have also drawn attention to the fact that the main product of our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project – the Learning Toolbox (LTB) has proved to be useful as support for apprentice training during these exceptional times. Yet, as I have mentioned earlier, I need to inform myself better on the new developments in online learning and in organising online events. With this post I give some examples, what is happening with some conferences and how the respective communities are dealing with the new situation. Here, it is worthwhile to note that I am following these developments from a safe distance and I will only refer to ongoing discussions.

Cancellation of ECER 2020 and the VETNET network – what options are being discussed

Shortly after my recent blog we received the news that the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) that was scheduled to take place at the end of August 2020 has been cancelled. For the moment we do not know, what further measures will be taken at the level of the umbrella organisation European Educational Research Association (EERA). We all understand that this has been a hard decision and that it will have manifold implications.

What we do know, is that the VETNET network (the EERA network for research in vocational education and training (VET)) has started an internal discussion, how to make the best out of the difficult situation. Here it is worthwhile to note that VETNET covers a wide range of research in the field of VET and has developed traditions of its own to strengthen the European research community. At present the following options merit special attention:

  • Ensuring the production of a VETNET proceedings publication in 2020: For several years the VETNET network has been able to produce its own annual proceedings publication based on conference papers presented at the respective ECER. Currently the VETNET board is willing to continue this tradition – even if the conference will not take place. This, of course, requires the agreement of the authors of accepted contributions. (From this point of view some other options for the authors have also been discussed.)
  • The possibility of organising an online event: So far the VETNET network has not organised online events attached to the ECER or independently of it. Now, the possibility has been put into discussion and some experiences from other conferences will be explored. However. on this point the discussion has not yet been concluded.

ECTEL and the complete online conference

As a contrast to ECER, the European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (ECTEL) has still kept the option open to organise this year’s conference as a face-to-face event in September. However, the conference organisers have made an explicit statement regarding the risks provided by the COVID-19 virus for the conference. Thus, the organisers have been prepared to transfer the conference into an online event and to secure the publication of the contributions in a proceedings publication. Latterly, the health office of Heidelberg had also advised the organisers, not to have a large face-to-face event in the autumn 2020. Therefore, the organising committee had decided to organise the EC-TEL 2020 fully as an online event.

Issues and challenges for online events

In the light of the above, it is apparent that many research communities and professional communities are looking for ways to transform their traditional conferences into online events. Some of them are approaching commercial software providers who offer solutions for large-scale online conferences. From the perspective of active interactivity among the participants these solutions may not be ideal. So far some conferences have piloted with software solutions that transform traditional posters into ePosters and provide interactive online communication possibilities. Here the functionality of Learning Toolbox has been praised in many contexts. However, so far it has been used for ePosters alongside face-to-face conferences. Now, the challenge is to find a good combination of software solutions that serve different purposes. Whilst there was firstly a phase of uncertainty, the LTB-developers and their start-up company Kubify has now been facing numerous requests to support relatively large conferences with ePosters. Now, as I have understood it, the ePosters are becoming part of the mainstream arrangement of conferences.

I guess this is enough for a news update. I will continue my explorations on different solutions for online learning arrangements and for online conferences with the help of colleagues who have brought me this far. My special thanks go to Gilbert Peffer with whom I will continue our talks in a short while.

More blogs to come …

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 …

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