Archive for the ‘Knowledge development’ 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!

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Presenting my contributions to TACCLE4 CPD project – Part Two: Insights into the completed reports

November 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I have told that this is the season for producing a short description on the ongoing project TACCLE4 CPD for the regular reviewing in our institute and for finalising the contributions to the project. I have also explained, why our contribution to the TACCLE4 CPD project has needed more research-oriented work that was anticipated in the project design. In general, the partners working with general and adult education have been able to rely more directly on the work of previous TACCLE projects. These have promoted digital competences of teachers in general education with focus on classroom teaching. Moreover, when developing strategies and models for continuing professional development (CPD) these partners have perceived school directors, local educational authorities and national educational authorities as their target audiences.

For the work of ITB – as the German partner in the project – the task to develop strategies and models for promoting digital competences in  the field of vocational education and training provides more complex challenges. The field of VET is not merely another educational sector (under educational authorities) but involves different learning venues, education and training providers and governance structures. Moreover, the promotion of digital competences of teachers and trainers is not merely a matter of digitization within education but requires understanding of digital transformation in working life. These challenges have been taken up in the following reports that have been produced for the TACCLE 4 CPD project.

Report 1 – Policy analyses: Raising awareness of multiple policies and initiatives

This report has been produced to cover policies and strategies at different educational levels and taking into account different governance models. The report draws attention to following characteristics of policies in the field of VET and to recent developments in innovation strategies to promote digital competences of different actors in VET:

  1. Distribution of power structures in different educational systems: The report makes transparent the differences between central and federal governance models in education.
  2. Distribution of functions and competences in dual systems of vocational education and training: The report presents the roles of different VET providers and stakeholders (companies, schools and intermediate training centres, chambers and governing bodies) and the regulations guiding different parties.
  3. Joint agreements, innovation programmes and strategic alliances: The report gives insights into joint agreements (between different bodies), innovation programmes (launched by central governments) and strategic alliances (at different levels for temporary actions in particular focal areas of VET development). In this context the report also informs of local initiatives.
  4. New frameworks at European and national level to promote digital comtences in education and training: The report discusses the key points of the European DigCompEdu framework as a general orientative framework for promoting digital competences in different educational sectors. In addition it discusses the more VET-specific accents that have been raised in the German study “Berufsbildung 4.0” (VET 4.0) that has outlined a future-oriented innovation programme.

Report 2 – Legacy of predecessor projects and finding new approaches to promote digital competences in the field of VET

This report has been produced to compare the training approaches that had been applied in the three prior TACCLE projects and at different phases of the Learning Layers project. In addition it gives an overview on more recent R&D projects in the field of VET. The report serves the following purposes:

  1. Creating awareness of the different project histories and process dynamics: In this respect the report gives brief overviews of the parallel project histories and different phases of work.
  2. Making transparent the role of co-design and piloting with new tools in the Learning Layers project: From this perspective the report analyses specific impulses that arise from this background in the project work.
  3. Providing insights into parallel R&D projects in education and training and their support for training of teachers and trainer: Here the report provides examples on support for teacher education, CPD measures for vocational teachers and CPD measures for trainers in enterprises.
  4. Providing insights into recent field interviews with vocational trainers (carried out as part of the TACCLE 4 CPD): Here the report presents trainers’ views on the prospects for linking the use of digital tools to vocational learning culture.

Report 4a – Research paper that draws conclusions for the development of CPD in the light of the analyses

This report has been produced to draw conclusions for a specific project contribution for the field of VET. The report serves the following purposes:

  1. Summarisation of the conclusions from the comparisons between predecessor projects: Here the report gives insights into the process dynamics, into the role of training measures and into the role of outreach activities.
  2. Raising awareness of different policy contexts for promoting digital competences in schools and in VET contexts: Here the report gives a brief overview of parallel possibilities.
  3. Drawing attention to the relevance of general frameworks or studies in the field of VET: Here the report reflects the role of the European DigCompEdu framework vis-à-vis the challenges in the field of VET – as outlined by the German framework study “Berufsbildung 4.0”.
  4. Raising awareness of different outreach approaches for innovations in school contexts and in VET contexts: Here the report draws upon experiences of the earlier TACCLE projects and on the outreach prospects identified after the Learning Layers project
  5. Drawing conclusions on the importance of TACCLE Routemap approach and the Theme Room training model (of the Learning Layers project) for shaping CPD concepts to promote digital competences in the field of VET.

Here it is worthwhile to note that the Report 3 – with focus on the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in vocational learning contexts – is still under preparation. Then, on the basis of all above-mentioned reports it is possible to prepare the Report 4b – a reworked version of the Theme Room training model for promoting digital competences in the field of VET. (Initially the Theme Room model was developed in the Learning Layers project for training all trainers of a construction sector training centre.)

I guess this is enough for a progress report at the moment. During the next week I will be working with the report on the use of OER in VET contexts. Then we will see, how I can make progress with the report on the reworked Theme Room training model.

More blogs to come …

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Presenting my contributions to TACCLE4 CPD project – Part One: Composing a short description

November 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

At this time of the year our research institute – Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) – is busy preparing a report for the regular meeting of our advisory board (Beirat). At he same time I am having final run to complete my contributions to the ongoing TACCLE4 CPD project. Concerning the report for the ITB Beirat, I need to prepare a short description of the project and update the list of my publications. Concerning the delivery for the TACCLE 4 CPD project, I want to get my reports published as soon as possible. At this point I find it appropriate to give a short progress report on both accounts.

Finding a role for VET research in a development-oriented project on technology-enhanced learning

In general, the praparation of short description of an ongoing project wouldn’t appear as a major challenge – in particular since there is one from last year to be updated. However, the circumstances have changed, the work in the project has moved on and the instructions for preparing the project descriptions set new accents.

Looking back at the beginning phase of the project, I was struggling to find an appropriate approach to work in the project. In general, the project design was based on the earlier three TACCLE projects that prepared handbooks an/or online resources for classroom teachers to make them fit for introducing technology-enhanced learning in their teaching. The project work had close links to parallel TACCLE courses in which teachers were trained to use digital tools and to develop their own teaching/learning arrangements. After three projects of this kind, the promoters wanted to shift the emphasis to shaping of strategies and models for continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers (and trainers) regarding their digital competences. As a distinction to the earlier projects, the fourth TACCLE project aimed to include adult education (AE) and vocational education and training (VET) as new educational sectors.

Whilst the field of VET had not been a target field in the earlier TACCLE projects, in the early phase of the Learning Layers project (and its construction pilot) we (ITB and Pontydysgu) had organised a multimedia training – similar to the TACCLE courses – for construction sector trainers. This was the point of reference for inviting ITB to join in the TACCLE4 CPD project. However, after that phase, the Learning Layers project had taken further steps in training activities, co-designing new digital tools to support vocational learning and in bringing these tools into practice. From this perspective, there was quite a lot of need to discuss, how to integrate the VET-specific challenges and working perspectives into the project. Finally, this require much more research-oriented work that was anticipated in the project design. From this perspective, the project description that was prepared for ITB Beirat one year ago, was not yet up-to-date concerning the role of VET research in the project.

Making the role of VET research in the TACCLE4 CPD project transparent

Now, when preparing the updated project descriptions we have been invited to make more transparent the research-oriented character of our projects – whether they are initiated by ITB or whether we are involved as partners. In this respect I can at best characterise the work of ITB with focus on VET as research-oriented contribution to a development project. From this point of view I can use the headings of the given template for project descriptions.

Problem statement: The successful work of three TACCLE projects to promote digital competences of teachers required a follow-up project to shape strategies and models for continuing professional development (CPD). The aim to cover a wider range of educational sectors made it necessary to launch specific research-oriented activities to cover the field of vocational education and training (VET).

Goal-setting: The aim of the VET-specific research activities is to raise awareness of the relations between digital transformation in working life, prospects for digitization in education and training and on the possibilities to develop proactive vocational learning arrangements.

Research approach: The set of VET-specific research activities has consisted of the following analyses and field studies:

  • Policy analyses: Here the task has been to give an overview on different national, regional and local initiatives for promoting digital competences in the field of VET. Also, these analyses have given insights into the European DigCompEdu framework and the German framework study “Berufsbildung 4.0”.
  • Revisiting the legacy of predecessor projects and examining newer R&D projects in VET: Here the main thrust has been to describe the evolution in the predecessor projects regarding the shaping of digital learning cultures – and implications for updating the training approaches. In this context impulses from newer R&D projects in VET have been discussed.
  • Analyses on the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) in VET: Here the task has been to make transparent the uses of in the context of vocational learning arrangements and for empowering vocational learners.
  • Drawing conclusions for flexible CPD approaches in VET: Here the task has been to revisit the “Theme Room” training model that was used in the Learning Layers project and to reshape a future-oriented approach.

Results: The results of the work of ITB will be presented in five reports: Report 1 – Policy analyses; Report 2 – Examination of prior and parallel projects; Report 3 – Analyses of OER in VET; Report 4a – Research paper on conclusions; Report 4b – Revisited Theme Room training concept.

I guess this is enough for the short description. In my next post I will discuss the three reports that I have completed so far.

More blogs to come …

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Visiting the “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Vocational Education and Training (VET)” project

November 2nd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of the week I had a chance to give a guest input at the kick-off meeting of the new Erasmus Plus project “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Vocational Education and Training (VET)”. The project is coordinated by our institute – Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen – and in person by my colleague Ludger Deitmer. The partners come from Greece, Italy, Lithuania and the United Kingdom/Wales. All partners are known to us from previous European cooperation activities, so the project team was in a good position to have a rapid start. My role as a visitor was to give an overview of some predecessor projects and their recent/ongoing work. In addition I had a surprise input to deliver on top of my presentation. (This time I didn’t  need to travel elsewhere, since the meeting took place at ITB.)

Looking at the work of earlier and parallel projects

As I mentioned above, the partners were all old acquaintances to ITB, but they had not all been working in the same projects for promoting digital competences. Therefore, Ludger asked to give a presentation of the immediate predecessor projects – the TACCLE projects and the Learning Layers project and their achievements. In particular the point of interest was, how these projects have contributed to training of teachers and trainers regarding digital competences. For this purpose I could use my presentation that I had given when visiting the recent meeting of the TACCLE VET project in Athens.)

In my presentation I gave brief historical overview on the development of TACCLE projects, starting with the shaping of a generic e-learning handbook for teachers (TACCLE1), in shaping a differentiated set of online handbooks for selected subject areas (TACCLE2) and then shaping online resources for teachers who teach coding and programming in primary education (TACCLE3). Whilst these projects were directly addressing particular teacher groups, the ongoing TACCLE4-CPD has the task to analyse and develop models for continuing professional development (CPD) for different educational sectors – including general education, adult education and vocational education and training (VET).  From the perspective of VET and workplace learning I added to the picture the work of the Learning Layers project, in particular the shaping of the Learning Toolbox (as a digital toolset to support work process -oriented learning).

Based on the overview I drew attention to several points with which I am currently working in the TACCLE4-CPD project:

  • Policy analyses that draw attention to measures and initiatives to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers  in VET (at schools, training centres and work organisations);
  • The role of the European DigCompEdu framework and the adapted TACCLE Routemap as support for CPD;
  • The need to pay attention to digitization in education/training contexts and to digital transformation in working life;
  • The impulses that are given by particular exemplary projects for specific ‘innovation paths’;
  • Revisiting the “Theme Room training” that was piloted in the Learning Layers project with the training centre Bau-ABC (in North Germany).

We had a lively discussion and then I left the project team to continue its planning of the work to be carried out during the working period that had just started. (Below some photos of the previous session that I observed.)

 

AI and VET 1 AI and VET 2 AI and VET 3

My special input: the citizens’ course in Artificial Intelligence in Finland

As I mentioned above, we had a lively discussion after my presentation. Yet, it was not so much about the predecessor project or on the points with which I am currently working. The partners who have been working in the said projects (and attended the recent Athens meeting ), had already become familiar with these contents. To others, these were new impulses. However, I had also a special input that was immediately interesting and relevant for all participants.

On the same morning I had listened to the German radio channel Deutschlandfunk and its program “Europa heute”. At the end they had a special report from Finland – presenting a course on Artificial Intelligence that had been designed for a wide audience. (See the transcript of the report “Digital-Vorreiter Finnland: Künstliche Intelligenz fürs Volk.)

I then visited the website of the course “The Elements of AI“, designed by the University of Helsinki and the special agency Reaktor. And in the meeting we then had a closer look, what kind of civic knowledge the course delivers for wide audiences. These impressions triggered a lot of thoughts and comments. (Below some screenshots on different chapters of the course.)

Screen Shot 2019-11-02 at 14.36.05 Screen Shot 2019-11-02 at 14.36.39

I guess this is enough of my visit and of my guest input. I was happy to share some information on past/parallel projects and to provide an interesting example of a an ongoing online course that is reaching wide audiences in my home country. We will follow, how this course is being developed in the coming times.

More blogs to come …

 

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

October 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come … (also on my side)

 

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Celebrating ePosters powered by Learning Toolbox – The Kubify team nominated for a major award

October 23rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

The readers of this blog may remember that the Learning Toolbox (LTB) was a major outcome of the EU-funded Learning Layers project and its Construction pilot. During the project idea of the Learning Toolbox emerged as a toolset to support workplace learning projects. It provided support for instruction, planning, access to resources, communication and documentation. By the end of project our colleagues in the Learning Layers Healthcare project had discovered the potential of Learning Toolbox as support for the poster sessions of healthcare conferences.

This led to an amazing spin-off innovation – the ePosters that are accessible via QR-codes that lead to the LTB mobile apps. Thus, the conference participants can inform themselves of the poster contents before scheduled poster sessions, during the conference and after the conference. As a support for accessing ePosters the LTB-developers shaped small mini-posters with the title, an image, brief text and the QR-tag. These mini-posters were then presented on a poster-cubicle that was placed at a central place near the registration desks and equipped with tables that enabled different kinds of round table talks (Barcamp, ePoster Arna etc.). With all these elements the time was ripe for the success story of the Kubify team.

Poster cubicle for ePosters Working with round tables

From start-ups to innovation leaders and award winners

As I mentioned, the Learning Toolbox (LTB) was developed as a digital toolset to support learning and knowledge sharing in the context of work organisations and workplaces. That provided a basis for an innovation path of the start-up company stack.services. The use of LTB as support for conferences and events was another path – for which the start-up company Kubify was created.

In the beginning the Kubify team was present at conferences that focused on healthcare sector and on educational technology. But in a short while they have expanded the range of their activities and reached new users in different contexts. And what is more encouraging – they have become highly appreciated. Last year (2018) the Kubify team won the Tech Watch Award 2018 at the international event of conference organisers.

Award winners 2018 The IBTM World Tech Watch Award 2018

This all came back to my mind now that we got the message that the Kubify team has been nominated for yet another award. As we have been told, Kubify – Learning Toolbox for ePosters is part of the EventTech Live LaunchPad competition this month. The web page of the LaunchPad page presents all competitors’ 1 minute pitch videos (page 1) and then provides an opportunity for giving your vote for your favourite. Please have a look what all is available:

http://tiny.cc/LaunchPad

We have been working with the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) both in the context of workplace learning and in conferences that have used ePosters for interactive poster sessions. Therefore, we encourage everyone to have a look at the LaunchPad website and support the Kubify team’s case for a richly deserved recognition. Good luck!

More blogs to come …

 

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

September 9th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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Productivity, innovation, learning and ‘Place’

September 3rd, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Fig 7Antiguo-cauce-del-río-Turia-3The UK Centre for Cities has been undertaking a lot of interesting research on the future of cities. In a recent article on their website, they look at ‘why place matters when thinking about productivity. Productivity has been persistently low in the UK and the article discusses “‘Place’, one of the pillars of productivity identified by the Government’s Industrial Strategy” and how it interacts with the other four pillars – ‘People’, ‘Ideas’, ‘Business Environment and ‘Infrastructure’.

Perhaps not surprisingly they find that. city centres offer inherent advantages to some businesses compared to those offered by rural areas. They also draw on previous research in finding that “broadly speaking, density is good for innovation…. the proximity of researchers to each other through co-location improves quality of output. Our work also finds that jobs in city centres are more productive than their counterparts elsewhere” although this preference is not universal.

Infrastructure’ , they say, “is the pillar where the impact of ‘place’ is the most obvious. Proliferation of public transport systems is the most efficient solution to get people around in dense city centres where as a private car is the best way to travel in the countryside.”

However it is the people pillar that I find most interesting and where I disagree with the article. “For the ‘people’ pillar, ‘place’ is indiscriminate – skill levels are the biggest determinant of outcomes everywhere.” The research has been taking place as part of the government drive to develop Local Industrial Strategies in England. Yet I do not think ‘place’ can be reduced to providing skills training courses. Our work in the EU funded CONNECT project suggests that as important, if not more so, is the promotion of opportunities for learning, through networks of different organizations including both the public and private sectors. Such organisations embrace cultural and social activities and adult education as well as formal skills training. And especially in dense cities like Valencia or Athens informal learning taking place in public spaces is critical. Such public spaces are frequently under pressure  from developers and policies need to be developed to preserve and extend such places. Thus any policy which looks at productivity and skills needs to take a wider viewpoint and in relation to cities, consider how public places play a role in sharing knowledge and developing social innovation.

 

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Preparing for forthcoming TACCLE project meetings

August 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I wrote about preparing for the forthcoming ECER 2019 (beginning of September in Hamburg). For a conference of educational researchers one needs to work with research papers and related presentations – that is obvious. However, later in the Autumn I will have two TACCLE project meetings for which I have had to prepare from another perspective. The two parallel TACCLE projects are working to promote digital competences of practitioners. The TACCLE-VET project focuses directly on teachers and trainers in the field of vocational education and training (VET). The TACCLE-CPD project shapes models for continuing professional development (CPD) in different educational sectors (general education, adult education, VET). I have been working only in the latter project – but as responsible for the sector of VET. Now, at this point, it is high time to share experiences between the two projects and to present some interim results for the neighbouring project.

To be sure, I have worked a lot and produced a lot. That all has contributed to the research paper, powerpoint presentation and ePoster (as a wider digital resource). BUT now it is necessary to prepare materials that support continuing professional development of practitioners – teachers and trainersand related planning in their organisations. Indeed,  I have written of  challenges with digital learning culture and on different innovation paths – that all gives food for thought. But now it is not just about delivering text and presenting it in attractive packages. What is also needed, is the inspiration and encouragement to take new challenges and try something hitherto unknown. And it is this spirit that I hope that we can grasp from our predecessor projects – the earlier TACCLE projects and the Learning Layers – and their training activities. Below I want to illustrate this with two videos.

Training in TACCLE3 project – Brussels meets Dillingen

The video “Unplugged coding in Dillingen” gives an impression, how three TACCLE trainers engaged the participants during their training visit. With such an approach the working with digital tools is brought into lived practice. (Many thanks to Angela Gerrard for sharing this video! And our deepest respects to Jenny Hughes who played an important role in this event as well!)

Putting digital competences into practice after Multimedia training – the Carpenters’ blog takes off

The other video demonstrates, how a full-time vocational trainer (working in a training centre of construction sector) made rapid use of his newly acquired digital competences. In a couple of weeks after the training session he had developed a remarkable resource base powered by a WordPress blog. In the Learning Layers project this was a major step forward in developing digital learning culture.

 

In both videos we can sense the joy of learning and of becoming owner of one’s new competences. In the Learning Layers project this interim phase was crucial to push the co-design process further – to the phase in which the Learning Toolbox (LTB) became a toolset for trainers and learners.

It is this creative spirit that we want to promote with our projects. Let us see what we can achieve in the coming time.

More blogs to come …

 

 

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Preparing for the ECER 2019 conference – paper, presentation and ePoster

August 23rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

The period before and after the summer holiday is usually characterised by preparation for conferences. For me, the highlight of the conference season is the annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), organised by the European Educational Research Association (EERA). The ECER 2019 will take place in Hamburg, so not that much travelling from Bremen. But this conference will be something special, since I will go on retirement in the year 2020. So, the tradition of participating in ECER conferences – that started in 1992 and continued regularly since 1996 – it is coming to an end. But, let us leave the memories to a later date! At the moment I am busy preparing my/our contributions for the conference. So, let us have a look, what is going on!

Conference paper and VETNET proceedings

This year I am contributing with only one submission – a joint paper with Angela Gerrard (Pontydysgu) and my former ITB-colleague Werner Müller (now representing stack.services). The (modified) title of the paper is “Strategies and Training Models for promoting Digital Competences in the field of Vocational Education and Training”. This paper focuses on our work in the ongoing EU-funded project TACCLE 4 CPD. As the acronym tells, it is based on the work of prior TACCLE projects.  These have prepared teachers’ aids for creating (digital) content for (web-based) learning environment. The challenge for the current project was to shift the emphasis from direct teacher training to shaping models and patterns for continuing professional development (CPD). And, with this task the project is looking at different educational sectors – including vocational education and training (VET).

The paper gives insights into the development of the TACCLE approach through different projects and changes in working patterns (working with hard copy handbook, shifting to different subject areas and shaping parallel online resources). As a another root project the paper presents the work of the Learning Layers project (co-design of digital tools to support vocational and workplace-based learning). Based on these backgrounds the paper reflects the transition to digital learning culture in the field of VET – including risks, opportunities and hurdles. Taking into account different VET-specific challenges the paper outlines three exemplary ‘Innovation paths’, how to to introduce digital learning culture into vocational curricula and learning arrangements. Then – concerning the promotion of digital competences of teachers and trainers – the paper discusses the European DigCompEdu framework and the local “Theme Room” training model that was developed in the Learning Layers. Altogether, the paper gives a picture, how VET research can contribute to a development-oriented project.

This year – once again – the coordinators of the VETNET network of EERA have invited us to submit out papers before the summer holiday so that they can edit the VETNET proceedings by the conference. This has put us under pressure (to finish the papers before the holiday period) but finally it is rewarding to receive the proceedings by the conference.

Conference presentation and the ePoster

After the summer holiday I have done some other work for the TACCLE 4 CPD project (to be covered in another blog post) and then prepared the conference presentation. This has helped me to take some further steps in the conclusions. However, the major effort was not so much the traditional powerpoint presentation but the ePoster, powered by the Learning Toolbox (LTB).

Last year, before the ECER 2018 in Bolzano/Bozen we had a mini-project of the VETNET network (supported by EERA) to explore the use of ePosters in the VETNET program of ECER. Together with the LTB-developers we arranged that the authors delivered their poster contents via LTB-stacks and used them to present in the VETNET ePoster session. Also, we had a general introductory session for other EERA networks (see my blogs of September 2018). This year we couldn’t continue in the same way but I wanted to keep the idea alive and add new content to the EERA showcase of ePosters. Therefore, I prepared a new stack to present the powerpoint, the full paper and other supporting resources.

ECER 2019 LTB-stack PK ECER-stack Screen2ECER-stack Screen3

This ePoster can be accessed directly via its web link or via the QR-code of the related mini-poster, see below:

Mini-poster PK ECER 2019

So, this is how I have been preparing our contribution to the ECER 2019 together with my co-authors and supported by the LTB-developers. We are looking forward to the conference in Hamburg in a short while.

More blogs to come …

 

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