Archive for the ‘networking’ Category

25 years working with Graham Attwell – networking, social media and new challenges

March 15th, 2021 by Pekka Kamarainen

Some time ago it has crossed my mind that i should write some lines on my cooperation with Graham Attwell. Indeed, I have already written a blog post on my 25 years’ journey with European cooperation project and how that journey was continued when I was employed by our research insitute ITB. However, that post was written from my perspective – as a personal learning journey with interruptions and catching up with the momentum. Now I feel the need to take a fresh look from the perspective of working and learning together with Graham Attwell. I guess that the best way is to discuss three themes – networking, social media and facing new challenges.

Networking the networks: community-building across European projects

Our cooperation started in the beginning of the year 1996. I was working as a project manager of Cedefop (European Centre for Development of Vocational Training) and started an activity that was based on accompaniment of European cooperation projects. Graham had moved to Bremen to coordinate the newly started project Europrof – training of new vocational education and training (VET) professionals. The kick-off meeting of that project was the first one that I observed during my accomanaying visits. From the very beginning we saw that we were on the same wave length regarding the ideas on collaborative research, learning from each other and supporting community-building among European VET researchers.

Europrof took already some steps to mobilize a wider set of interested researchers into exchanges with its core partners. I did my part when launching the European seminars of my Cedefop project with partner institutes in Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland and Portugal. In addition, we initiated several symposia at the European Conferences on Educational Research (ECER) in Sevilla (1996), Frankfurt (1997), Ljubljana (1998), Lahti (1999) and Edinburgh (2000). With these events we promoted learning from each other and joint knowledge development across parallel European projects. Some of the events gave an opportunity to have a closer look at national pilot projects and new initiatives to promote digital competences in the field of VET.  As such I remember the 1998 event with Modellversuch Schwarze Pumpe and the joint seminar in 2000 with the Portuguese national Agency Inofor in Sintra. Later on, a major arena for such network-based knowledge sharing emerged as the network-project Forum (funded by the EU 4th Framework Programme for Research). Furthermore, some of these community-building activities were taken up in certain VET-related conferences under the auspices of the current EU presidency. In this respect I remember conference of the Dutch EU presidency 1997 as well as the conferences of the UK and Austrian presidencies in the year 1998. But – all this had its time. The high season of ‘learning from each other’ and ‘networking the networks’ was soon over and the policy climate changed to other directions – and that had consequences for the funding of European projects.

Digital competences and social media in the field of VET

When some of the earlier themes of European projects started to fade away from the European policy agenda, it was important that Graham was active as an explorer on the theme ‘use of ICT in the field of VET‘. His pioneering contribution was the Cedefop-funded digital resource base “ICT in VET”. It was an outcome of intensive networking with other experts and a predecessor of several later community portals (some of which were rather short-lived and some more sustainable). At that time the discussion on promoting digital competences was heavily overshadowed by the hype around eLearning and by enthusiasm on informal ‘career spaces’ of ICT companies. At this phase Graham represented a well-grounded position that ICT competences are to be promoted in substantial vocational learning contexts.

However, at that time the European funding programmes did not focus that strongly on the field of VET. Instead, more overarching interests on ‘lifelong learning’ or on ‘human resources’ were pushed forward. Alongside these, some new priorities started to emerge – such as ‘open source software’ and ‘open educational resources’. Graham was one of the pioneers with these themes. Together with his fellow pioneers he launched network-based projects like SIGOSSEE (Special interest group for open source software in education in Europe) or the ‘Bazaar’ (for promoting open educational resources via the stalls of the Bazaar). At that time he was also a well-known blogger with his “Wales-Wide-Web’.

At this time I had had a career break after leaving Cedefop. Keeping contact with these initiatives helped me to get back on board – in particular when I was employed by the research institute ITB of the University of Bremen. At that time Graham was working closely with ITB (as a Visiting Fellow) and I could follow his new initiatives from a close distance. I also took my first steps as a blogger but that with some tumbling. Firstly I put an emphasis on project-specific blogging on project websites. These turned out to be short-lived activities – when the projects were finalised, the websites were archived and soon the domain-names expired. Another effort was to develop conference blogs for the VETNET network program at the ECER. This turned out to be a lonely job – also these faded away soon. With my personal blog on the Pontydysgu site (thanks to support from Graham) I had difficulties in keeping myself active. In the meantime Graham was roaming across a wider range of projects and had a lot to share and comment on his themes.

Facing new challenges – the Learning Layers project

All this comes together in my mind when I think of the period when we worked together in the EU-funded project Learning Layers (2012 – 2016) and its follow-up phase. The project was originally designed by educational technologists, computer scientists software and developers with whom Graham had worked together. For the EU FP7 (7th Framework Programme of Research, Technology and Development) they had initiated a new project that sought to bring their expertise together to support the introduction of new ICT tools to support (informal) learning in SMEs. The initial idea was to focus on the healthcare sector – notably on networks of GP practices in the Leeds-Bradford region. But the aim was to scale up the innovations Europe-wide by approaching similar SME clusters.

Thanks to Graham, the plan was broadened by introducing a new pilot sector – construction industries and trades from Germany. And that brought our research institute (ITB) into picture as provider of research-based support for the sectoral partners in Germany. And – when working with training centres and SMEs in the construction sector – we were in the need to look closer, how to introduce new ICT tools to support work process-oriented learning. Thus, we were in the middle of promoting the development of digital tools to enhance apprentice training, organisational learning and continuing professional development. And in this context we were able to push forward the co-design process that led to the introduction of the Learning Toolbox (LTB). And, as regular readers of this blog know, we were able to finalise the project with a viable end product that found new uses beyond the initial pilot context.

However – paradoxically – the real success story of the LTB  took off in completely different context. Here we need to thank the partners of the project who took the main responsibility of the development of the LTB and promoted it as a support tool for online conferences. a new But, also we in ITB could also draw important lessons from this experience with a major project. For me, the work in the project gave me the boost to become an active blogger. And because of my regular blogging, the progress in the construction pilot could be summarised and reflected on annual basis, in the final phase and during the follow-up activities.

I guess this is enough of our journey together with European projects, networks and challenges with digital tools. I have gone to retirement, whilst Graham keeps working with new projects. I wish him and his partners good luck!

More blogs to come …

 

 

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

December 9th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

Research & development work in action vs. observation from afar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

 

 

 

 

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!

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

February 5th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

ePosters are more than mere e-posters

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

Meine persönliche Erfahrungen mit der Wende – Part Two: Memories of Germany October 1990

November 3rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I shared some memories of my study visit to Germany in October/November 1989. However, I didn’t write the post primarily as a report of the study visit (with an account of my conversations at different stations). Instead, I wanted to give a picture, how I experienced the signs of change in East Germany (then DDR) when travelling in West Germany (BRD) and West-Berlin. As I mentioned in the post, I didn’t pay that much attention to the first signs of change but by the end of the journey it was clear that something bigger is happening. And a few days after I had returned, the Berlin wall and the borders elsewhere were opened. Now, it so happened that my next conference trip to Germany coincided with the German unification. To me, this is so closely linked to my memories of the October/November trip of 1989 that I prefer to write my memories of the latter trip now – rather than waiting for the 30th anniversary next year.

My participation in the “Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung 1990” in Magdeburg 1.10. – 3.10.1990

In the beginning of the year 1990 I had joined a research group “Curricular strategies for lifelong learning” that had some funding for participation in international conferences. As a follow-up to my study visit of the year 1989 I wanted to continue and deepen my exchanges with German researchers in the field of vocational education and training (VET). A special opportunity was provided by the nation-wide conference “Hochschultage Berufliche Bildung” (originally initiated by ITB in Bremen). The conference of the year 1990 had originally been given to another location but then relocated to Magdeburg. Here, it is interesting that a West-German conference was organised in East Germany. The decision was made with the idea that this helps to promote dialogue with East-German colleagues by approaching each other in the spirit of mutual learning. However, the wheels of history were spinning rapidly and the dates of the conference came to be the dates of the German unification.

The theme of the conference was “Schlüsselqualifikationen” (Key qualifications). I had come across the theme via literature – by reading Dieter Mertens’ future-oriented theses of the year 1972/1974. To me this gave rise to prepare a special paper on educational reforms in the Nordic countries and to reflect in what ways they may take up the theme ‘key qualifications’. To be sure, this last minute’s  contribution hadn’t been included into the program. Nevertheless, I had prepared something for eventual exchanges.

At the conference venue it became apparent that the theme ‘key qualifications’ was overshadowed by a major theme – the unification. And instead of discussing in terms of gradually approaching each other the participants from East and West had a common concern – the rapid implementation of West-German educational legislation in the East. This included the setting up of new federal states in the area of former DDR. This included also setting up the dual system of apprenticeship while privatising the state-owned companies and decoupling the vocational schools from the company structures. To be sure, the thematic sessions that had been planned, were carried out. But the challenges of the unification took major attention.

The conference started before the date of the unification and it was opened by the last minister of education of the last (transitional) government of DDR. He and his secretary of state were received as guests of honour, but it was clear to all that they will no longer have a major role in the future educational policies. Then, shortly after, the minister of education of the Federal Republic of Germany gave a speech. In his speech there was no sign of mutual adjustment. Instead, it sounded like the agenda of the colonial power in the newly colonised region. On top of it, he broke his promise (to stay for the discussion) and announced that he has to leave immediately. As a courtesy to him, the outgoing political representatives of the last DDR government left with him – and the participants were left to discuss with each other.

The Cedefop workshop on “Key qualifications and social competences in East and West”

During the first day of the conference I was introduced by an acquaintance from BiBB to the Cedefop project manager Norbert Wollschläger, who was in charge of a Cedefop-initiated workshop that sought to discuss the theme ‘key qualifications and social competences’ from the perspective of comparing East- and West-European views. He found my paper (that brought the Nordic perspective into discussion) interesting and worth including into the program of his workshop. When entering the workshop, I realised that it was more like a round table discussion among high-rankin speakers from Cedefop (the director and his predecessor) and from affiliated institutes, including a special guest from Soviet Union (an Estonian academician with whom Cedefop was preparing cooperation). Here again, the bigger picture of ongoing transformations in East Europe started to take over. Nevertheless, my input from the Nordic perspective was well received.

As a follow-up, I got an invitation to a Soviet-European seminar (organised by the Soviet Academy of Educational Sciences and Cedefop) later in the year. That was a more high-ranking event that took place at the advent of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the seminar was overshadowed by various expectations and interests in developing business relations linked to export of educational know-how. To me it was clear that I was not part of that game and neither was Finland looking for such cooperation with its Eastern neighbour.

I guess this is enough of my memories of the year 1990. On an anecdotal level I can add that the trip back from Magdeburg was characterised by traffic jams in Berlin and delayed flights. The seminar in Moscow was characterised by chilly cold weather and my trip was a round trip via Copenhagen (where I attended a Nordic event). This all belonged to my working into the Nordic and European cooperation – which then characterised my later career as a VET researcher.

More blogs to come …

 

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 …

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.

 

Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part Three: The Europa-Fete in Bremen

May 12th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

I started a series of blog posts by mentioning that we celebrated the Europe-Day on Thursday, the 9th of May, here in Bremen. Then, In my first post I explained the background of the Europe-Day and then reflected on two periods of my career as a European researcher in vocational education and training (VET). In my second post I reflected on my encounters with expatriate communities and/or European initiatives in Thessaloniki (1995-2002) and Bremen (from 2005 on). Now it is time to get back to the celebration of the Europe-Day. Below I have selected some photos of the Europa-Fete at the central sqare (Marktplaz) of Bremen, surrounded by the old City Hall (Rathaus), the new City hall (Bürgerschaft), the churches and old buildungs.

Europa-Fete Bremen-1

Here the stage for performers (in front of the new City hall, to the left the St. Pete’s Cathedral)

Europa-Fete Bremen-4

Here cheerful and active expatriate Finns and Finland-friends with a Finnish flag …

Europa-Fete Bremen-7

… but representing the Bremen Lapland-initiative that focuses mainly on the Sami people on Russian territory.

Europa-Fete Bremen-9

And last but not least: The stand of the “Pulse of Europe” movement that has been active during the last few years. It has kept our European spirits up whatever has happened in the European politics.

I guess this is enough of this reporting. The next Pulse of Europe event will start in two hours. I need to get there in good time. But I will keep the European themes up while working and learning for Europe.

More blogs to come ...

Empower to Shape Change: Learning and Identities in the Changing World of Work

March 21st, 2019 by Graham Attwell

Empower-to-Shape-Change

As regular readers of this blog will know, Pontydysgu were members of a consortium in a project called EmployID, funded by the European Commission. The project focused on changing work identities in Public Employment services and how technology could be used to support Continuing Professional Development, including both formal learning and informal learning.

All too often such project produce a series of fairly unintelligible reports before they face away. We were determined not to replicate this pattern. Instead of producing a  series of annual reports for the EU based on different project work packages, for three years of the project we produced an an unified annual report in the form of an ebook.

And the EmployId Consultancy Network , formed out of the project has now produced a short book, designed for individuals and organisations interested in organisational transformations, changing identities and learning.

The EmployId Consultancy Network is a network of researchers, practitioners and trainers offering tailored services for solutions around facilitating staff development with the focus on professional identity transformation (among them are myself, Luis Manuel Artiles Martinez, Pablo Franzolini, Deirdre Hughes, Christine Kunzmann, John Marsh, Andreas P. Schmidt, Jordi Fernández Vélez, Ranko Markus, Karin Trier, Katarina Ćurković and Adrijana Derossi).

This is what the book is about:

The world of work is undergoing fundamental transformations.

For example, nurses have mostly chosen their job because they want to care for their patients, but their work now involves, to a large degree, computer-based documentation and quality assurance measures. Practitioners in public employment services turn from administrating unemployment benefits into coaches for their clients. And engineers need to make sense of large scale sensor data and assess the opportunities of artificial intelligence techniques for their companies’ future services.We see technological developments such as digitization and automation in an ever increasing number of sectors and intensity.

Are you embracing and shaping the change or are you being driven by it?

Companies and public sector organisations have to reshape their value creation processes and guide their employees to new job roles, creating an uncertain outlook. Ask yourself are you embracing and shaping change, or are you being driven by it? The ability to utilise modern technologies and methods is simply scratching the surface. Overcoming resistance to change, stressful conflicts, and lack of openness are major road blocks. We also need to look at a deeper level of learning. Employees need to rethink their job roles, their relationship to others, and what a successful working environment means to them.

Employees and Leaders need to take new approaches to match the new responsibilities

This indicates the importance of the professional identity of individuals and occupational groups. Employees are often not given opportunities to engage in reflective learning conversations. There is a need for workers to consider the emotional aspects of their work and identity. It is important that they also acquire the skills needed to work effectively with others to move from a problem focus to a solution focus and help each other in their learning process.

In this short book, we look at strategies to empower and shape change, including the role of technology and identity transformation for learning in the workplace.The contents of this book follow a deliberate path focusing on contemporary themes. It is aimed at practitioners, managers, researchers and policymakers.

You can download a free PDF copy of the book here. Or you can order the paperback version on Amazon for Euro 14.40.

Remembering Jenny Hughes – Part One: Personal memories on our cooperation

October 31st, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last Sunday we got from Graham Attwell the sad news: Jenny Hughes has passed away. As we know it, Graham is a long-time friend of Jenny over decades. In his blog Graham has already given us a picture what all Jenny has been up to during the years they have known each other (see Graham’s recent blog post). I have also known Jenny and Graham quite some time – our cooperation dates back to the year 1996 when I started monitoring EU-funded cooperation projects as a project manager of Cedefop (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training). Little did we anticipate, what all we would experience together in the years to come and what kind of initiatives we could bring forward. Below I try to cover some of the main themes with which we have worked together in the field of vocational education end training (VET). In this context I will try to give a picture, how Jenny has contributed to European networking and community-development through all these years.

Jenny training the trainers in Bau-ABC

Professionalisation of teachers, trainers and VET professionals altogether

The first time I met Jenny (and also Graham) in Bremen in January 1996 in the kick-off meeting of the European cooperation project “Europrof”. The project was initiated by Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen, but they chose to employ Graham as the coordinator. Jenny was representing the UK (Welsh) partner organisation. I was representing Cedefop – as an additional accompanying researcher. The aim of the project was to shape a new integrative framework for VET professionals – to overcome the divide between teachers (in school-based education) and trainers (in workplace-based training). The conceptual starting point inspired many European colleagues to join in at a later stage – as affiliated expert partners. However, the project had difficulties in working its way forward from a critical ‘state of the art analysis’ to a realistic change agenda that could be adjusted to different VET cultures. Yet, the work in the Europrof workshops prepared the grounds for a Europe-wide ‘invisible college’ and community-building process that was continued in other projects. In the beginning phase I remember that Jenny was critical about the ‘European English’ terminology that we (non-native English speakers) were using. It took some time for us to understand that we were not disagreeing on the underlying ideas but instead we were not aware of the connotative meanings in British English – that made our message weaker or diluted it altogether. Once we understood this, we were happy to work with Jenny on our side.

The Europrof project had tried to outline an integrative change agenda for promoting education and training for new VET professionals (covering the school-based and workplace-based VET). The successor projects tried to develop a differentiated approach – addressing teachers and trainers in VET as different target groups. The TTplus project (2006 – 2008) was initiated by Graham (now representing Pontydysgu and bringing Jenny with him). I joined this project as a freshman in ITB, based in Bremen. In this project we looked at the instances of change and interests that we could trace in different countries – in order to draw common conclusions. In this project Jenny provided insights into the training practices in Welsh organisations and outlined a framework for continuing professional development (for countries that did not have strong established frameworks at place).

A third phase of such European cooperation took shape in the European Consultation seminars 2007 -2008. The European Commission had decided to launch a consultation process based on six ‘regional’ workshops involving EU Member States and EFTA cooperation partners. The workshops had the task to bring different stakeholders to joint discussion on the role of European policies in promoting the professionalisation of teachers and trainers in VET. The project was led by ITB and supported by Pontydysgu. In the light of the difficulties that we had experienced in previous projects it was of vital importance that Jenny was able to shape a set of interactive workshops that kept the participants busy in common discussion instead of getting stuck with institutional and systemic differences.

Here some of the key points of this workshop concept:

  1. Mapping of concerns of teachers and trainers: What are the issues – what are common to both, what are different? The issue cards were written and set on the wall – illustrating the sense of commonality or relative distance between teachers and trainers.
  2. Witness sessions: Participants reported of recent reforms in their countries and of current European projects that they perceived as innovative.
  3. Problem and Solution cards: Participants wrote on one side of the card a pressing problem and on the other side a possible solution. These were then discussed in groups.
  4. Mapping policies: On a matrix the participant groups were asked to indicate, what European policies do more and what less and what national policies should do more and what less.
  5. Taking a message home: Participants were asked to formulate their own conclusions as messages to take home.
  6. Self-evaluation of the workshop: Participants indicated on flipchart, what had worked well and what was less well in the workshop process – and the process could be improved.

During the workshops the participants worked mostly in mixed groups and language support was provided on demand. Also, at different phases of the process that participants changed groups. In this way the workshop stimulated cross-cultural dialogue and knowledge sharing on key issues and emerging initiatives. The participants emphasised the value of such process and hoped that it would be continued. Unfortunately the Commission services were expecting the process to deliver a Common European framework that would make such exchanges gradually redundant.

From ‘distance learning’ and ‘e-learning’ to the TACCLE projects

Another key theme for Jenny has been the promotion of teachers’ and trainers’ competences in e-learning – remote learning, open distance learning, multimedia learning, e-learning, technology-enhanced learning – whatever it has been called at different times. The major flagship projects in this context have been the TACCLE projects (I will get back to this in my next blog) and the related TACCLE courses. In these projects and in the supporting courses Jenny had the chance to shape handbooks, web-based support materials and workshops that brought the e-learning competences ‘home’ to the work of different teachers and trainers. As a personal memory I can refer to the Multimedia Training workshops that Pontydysgu and ITB organised together for the full-time trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup in Germany. The lively approach that Jenny radiated throughout the training made the construction sector trainers do their best to get something useful for them in their own work. At a later phase of the Learning Layers project these pioneering trainers served us the champions in introducing the digital toolset Learning Toolbox to their training. And later on they have served as peer tutors in their own organisation and multipliers in a wider context.

Networks, communities and real life wisdom

One important aspect in Jenny’s career has been her role in European networks and community-building processes. She may not have pushed herself into the representative positions but yet her contribution has been vital. I still remember the start of the European “Forum” network that was launched in 1995 as a ‘learning community’ for European researcher. This network tried to avoid premature institutionalisation. Instead, it developed a culture of regular thematic workshops – and included specific workshops for emerging researchers. Gradually, it became necessary to apply for funding and to develop a formalised structure for thematic knowledge development – and in this way the project-specific goals for producing publications in each work package took over the process dynamic. During this development Jenny was trying to maintain the culture of ‘learning community’ and resist the atomisation of the network.

Throughout her career Jenny has been remembered as an advocate of ‘real life wisdom’. She took seriously the challenges of academic knowledge development but at the same time she always work together with practitioners and supported their development. We have lost Jenny but her legacy inspires us from now on.

More blogs to come …

 

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