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 …

 

 

TACCLE4 CPD website presents the end products of the project

February 5th, 2021 by Pekka Kamarainen

During the last few years most of my blog posts have dealt with my contributions to the EU-funded project TACCLE4 CPD. As I have told it several times, the project has developed models and resources to support continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers with focus on promoting their digital competences. In this respect the project has built upon earlier TACCLE projects that worked directly with active teachers and organised courses for them. The fourth project sought to equip education and training managers and teacher trainers with tools to develop CPD measures and trainingmodels. Moreover, the project extended the scope beyond school-based education to include also the field of vocational education and training (VET).

As I have explained it time and again, our institute ITB (Institut Technik & Bildung) from the University of Bremen was invited as a new partner to the project to cover the field of VET. For this purpose we were well positioned since we had been working with vocational teachers and trainers – in particular in the EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project. However, during the work it appeared that there was a need to provide separate outputs that focused on the field of VET – in particular when considering the dual system of apprenticeship. From this perspective my blog posts have given insights to this VET-specific work and how it has been received by teachers and trainers in Germany. As I have gone to retirement during the project, I was not so well informed by the progress of the work for other educational sectors. Now I am happy to give an overview on the results of the entire project as the have been published on our website http://taccle4cpd.eu/.

The Webinars – insights into the project

The opening of the website is provided by the webinar section. Our project coordinator Angela has recorded two webinars. The first one gives a quick overview on the project idea and on the achievements.

The Intellectual Outputs – Mindmaps, web resources and supporting reports

The second webinar gives a more detailed overview on the final results and how they have been presented on the website. In this way it becomes transparent that some of the IOs are presented as mindmaps, others as interactive handbooks or collections of web resources, whilst others have been presented as written reports.

The CPD- and VET-related blogs

In addition to the sections that present the results and resources that have been produced the website gives access to blog posts that have documented the work during the project.

So, now we have all the results nicely presented on the project website. Congratulations Angela and the partners!

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

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

December 9th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

Sharing news and views of prominent persons

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

Engagement with Finnish expatriate communities

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

Engagement with musicians (whom I have met in Finland)

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

 

 

 

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

November 28th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

25 years work with European projects in the field of VET

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

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

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

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

During those years (1994/95 – 2002) blogging was not available as an option to reflect on the activities. At that time I could at best write down my experiences and thoughts into my mission reports (Dienstreiseberichte). After my time in Cedefop I compiled them into several thematic logbooks that gave a picture on my accompanying activities (with projects) on my involvement in conferences and on my contributions to the VETNET network (in the context of ECER-conferences).

15 years work with European projects of ITB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

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

April 28th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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

April 3rd, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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

February 16th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

More blogs to come … ( Watch this space!)

Learning Toolbox going strong to the year 2020

January 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

Starting the new year with many changes and new challenges

January 26th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …  (every now and then)

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

October 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come … (also on my side)

 

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