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 …

 

 

Impressive Learning Toolbox Showcase presents the success of ePosters

September 25th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my latest blog I had reported of the achievements of our former partners from the Learning Layers (LL) project  with ePosters powered by the Learning Toolbox (LTB) in different online conferences. As regular readers of this blog know, the LTB was developed as a digital toolset to support workplace-based and vocational learning in the Construction pilot of the LL project. After the project the LTB-developers have developed a spin-off innovation with ePosters that use the functionality of the LTB. The further development and commercialisation is carried out by the start-up company Kubify BV and up-to-date information is delivered via their Twitter feed Kubify – LTB for ePosters. After I had written my latest post I discovered that the LTB-developers had released a new Learning Toolbox Showcase that presents a gallery of ‘all stars’ of ePosters in recent conferences. Below I will give some insights into this interesting resource environment.

ePosters conquer new grounds

So far I have been able to observe the progress with the LTB-powered ePosters from the conferences of the Association of Medical Educators in Europe (AMEE) in the years 2017 and 2018. I have also become aware that they have been able to mainstream the use of ePosters in several conferences – mainly in the healthcare sector. In my recent blog I referred to the new interest of several conference organisers who have had to transform the conferences into online event. Yet, my picture of the progress has been fragmentary and my awareness of the range of LTB-users has been narrow.

Now, when looking at the selected ePosters of the LTB Showcase I realise, how widely the innovation has spread – both in geographic and in domain-related terms. What is of particular interest, is the fact that some of the early users have incorporated the ePosters into their regular conference culture – no longer as an optional space but as a mainstream approach. Moreover, some of the new users have directly stepped into a broad-based introduction of ePosters. And last but not least – whilst the main activity around the ePosters will take place during the conference dates, the ePosters are visited in great numbers also after the conferences (as the statistics of the LTB-developers show it).

Concerning the spread of the  ePosters, this new showcase makes it transparent that they are really widely used in several conferences and online events. In fact, the sample that is presented is merely the top of an iceberg. Behind the chosen ones there is a critical mass of other ones. So, when clicking the names of the events (attached to the ePosters) you will get a link to the respective showcase with many more to explore. Below I try to give a brief group picture.

The ePosters made their breakthrough in conferences of the healthcare sector, in particular addressing educators of healthcare professionals. Already this field brings into picture quite a variety  thematic areas:

  • AMEE – the annual conference of medical educators in Europe
  • ADEE – the annual conference of dentist educators in Europe
  • Clinical Education Network Symposium
  • SESAM – the conference on simulations in healthcare education
  • Future Physiology – the conference of early career researchers of the Physiological Society

In addition to the above-listed regular conferences, ePosters have been used widely in special events focusing on other themes that are related to the healthcare issues, such as:

  • Mirots – the multiplier event of the project for internationalisation of occupational therapy
  • APS – the conference for plant health

Furthermore, ePosters have been used in other kinds of contexts, such as

  • Midlands4Cities Digital Research Festival – a regional R&D festival with a broad variety of topics
  • EC-TEL and DELFI Poster and Demo Track – a section in the online conference on technology-enhanced learning
  • IMEX Association Day – a discussion group in a conference of event organisers.

ePosters bring richness to knowledge sharing

When looking at the topics covered in the various showcases it is interesting to see different aspects of expertise and professional development being covered by different ePosters. Then, having them arranged as a conceptual neighbourhood in the common showcase, they give a group picture of current progress in the respective online community. And finally, the fact that the ePosters remain accessible in the showcase after the conference, they remain as sustainable knowledge resources that can be reused as support for domain-specific learning.

I think that this is enough of the new Learning Toolbox Showcase and of the thematic showcases that provide the background for this ‘all stars’ formation. Altogether I am impressed. And I am eager to learn more, how such ePosters and showcases can be used to support the promotion of digital competences of teachers and trainers.

More blogs to come …

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!

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

April 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

Strong focus on co-design and stakeholder engagement

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

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

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

Rethinking the contextual opportunities and applying technology in previously unforeseen contexts

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

Shaping of R&D projects as innovation hubs/ platforms

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

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

April 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

Insights into the development of ePosters powered by LTB

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

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

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

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

Insights into the use of LTB in the healthcare sector

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

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

April 28th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

 

 

Highlights in the TACCLE 4 CPD project – Working with the theme “Open Educational Resources (OER)”

December 15th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts I have presented results that have been achieved in the EU-funded project TACCLE 4 CPD. I have drawn attention to the reports that have focused on promoting digital competences of teachers and trainers in the field of vocational education and training (VET). With this post I want to shift the emphasis from the final products to the process of work that has led to results. Here I want to highlight the collaborative process that has made it possible to achieve genuine results with the theme “Using Open Educational Resources (OER) in the field of VET”.

Before I go any further I need to make the point that I couldn’t have brought such results on my own – as a research in VET with researcher’s view on practice. To me it has been a highlight in this project to work together with my colleague Jan Naumann. Jan has a background in apprentice training for two technical occupations and then a long experience as trainer and as vocational teacher. Having completed his studies in pedagogics of VET he has joined us as a researcher in ITB. With his manifold experience in ‘training teachers and trainers’ projects we could focus on real use cases and teaching/learning arrangements. But we could also bring the documentation and promotion of OER further with our join efforts.

Preparing the report on uses of OER in the field of VET

When we started working with the report for the TACCLE 4 CPD project we made a decision that we will not try to give an encyclopedic overview on different kinds of OER. Instead, we tried to outline an innovation path (or learning journey) in using OER to shape and enrich vocational taeching/learning arrangements. From this perspective we presented exemplary cases – starting from simple ones and heading to more complex ones.

In the first exemplary case the use of digital tools was not highlighted. Instead – with the process in which apprentices were making their own tools – the pedagogic point was that the learners were producing tools for themselves. Thus, they were invited to think of the use of the tools and of the quality requirements. In the second example a learning path in robotics was enriched with the use of Open Resources (OR) into an integrative project that brought together different areas of vocational knowledge. In the third example the use of OR in a nodal point of hitherto separate learning path helped to link them into an integrated set of learning paths. In the fourth example the use of OER and OR helped to bring parallel learners’ teams (technical, administrative and catering) into a joint learning project – planning and organising go-kart races with self-planned project administration, self-made vehicles and self-organised catering services.

Preparing the supporting power point presentation on two exemplary cases

Whilst the report could provide rather lively summaries of cases that have been implemented in practice, it was necessary to give closer insights into the educational designs. Therefore, we prepared a power point presentation as an annex to the said report. In this presentation we could visualise the development, enrichment and integration of the learning designs in the second and third exemplary case. To us, this provided a basis for discussions, how to build upon such cases.

path1 path2

Preparing the ePoster  to share knowledge on the report and the exemplary cases

However, we didn’t stop working when we had finalised the report and the annexed power point presentation. We wanted to take a further step in using digital tools to promote knowledge sharing on such innovations. Therefore, we prepared an ePoster by using Learning Toolbox (LTB) – the digital toolset that had been developed in the earlier EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). For this purpose we created an LTB-stack that consisted of three screens (as they appear on the mobile app of LTB). The first screen presents an opening message and then provides access to the report, power point presentation and to a relevant web page for accessing OR. The second screen presents the exemplary case of the single integrative project with additional information and detailed presentation. In a similar way the third screen presents the integrated set of learning paths. Finally we prepared the stack poster that can be used as a mini-poster in conferences.

OER in VET 1 OER in VET 2OER in VET 3

With this process of work we have tried to demonstrate, what we mean with the concept ‘innovation path’ in the context of promoting uses of OER in vocational teaching/learning contexts. And with using LTB as means to share knowledge we have tried to work with our own tools to deliver our message.

I think this is enough of this highlight in our project work. Now it is time to take a break and to see what comes next.

More blogs to come …

Presenting my contributions to TACCLE4 CPD project – Part Four: Shaping a new Theme Room Training framework

December 8th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous posts I have given an overview of the reports for our ongoing TACCLE4 CPD projects that I had completed so far. At the end I have mentioned that all the reports so far provide contributions to a new framework for developing training for teachers and trainers – with emphasis on promoting digital competences in the context of vocational learning. Already in the previous reports I had made the point that this should be based on the Theme Room training concept that was initiated and implemented in the Learning Layers project. During last week I have written a draft report to outline such a framework.  Below I will present some background information and the concluding section of the report. I think that they will give an idea, what kind of framework is taking shape.

The idea of Theme Room Training – oringins and new perspectives

This framework is being prepared as a final product of the EU-funded project TACCLE4-CPD. The project has continued the work of earlier TACCLE projects in promoting digital competences of school teachers. However, concerning the field of VET, this project drawn upon the experiences of the EU-funded project Learning Layers (LL). The LL project developed digital tools and training concepts to support workplace-based and vocational learning. The concept of “Theme Rooms” was developed as a part of the LL project to promote digital competences of vocational trainers.

The training in ‘Theme Rooms’ was initiated by the above-mentioned trainers who wanted to develop a more systematic training arrangement. With this approach they wanted to reach all training staff in their organisation. In this way they wanted to promote the use of digital tools in all areas of apprentice training.

The idea of Theme Rooms was based on the following pedagogic principles:

  • Combination of real and virtual learning spaces for focused thematic blocks for promoting digital competences;
  • Signing in into ‘theme rooms’ for completing the learning sessions with exercises and then signing out (with a flexible tempo);
  • Working together in teams in terms of peer learning and peer tutoring;
  • Rotating between different themes in order to reach common awareness of the subject matter and to develop a common competence base.

The concept of Theme Room training was put into practice as a staff training campaign during one month. This training campaign based on the Theme Room concept helped the trainers to become users of the LTB in their own training. Now, in the current situation, it is possible to identify many parallel approaches to introduce digital tools and new media into vocational learning. At the same time there are new qustions concerning the significance of digital technologies in the context of vocational education and training (VET). These are taken up in the new framework.

What does the new framework stand for?

The main elements of the framework are thematic blocks that can be used as a basis for the Theme Rooms of the updated training concept. The following set of thematic blocks is presented in the further sections below:

In the first thematic block the framework draws attention to digital transformation (as a major socio-cultural challenge) and to digitization (as a more specific development). This block invites to think, how VET provisions can prepare for such processes and/or provide co-shaping contributions.

The second thematic block discusses the readiness of older and younger learners to use digital media and tools in the context of vocational learning. This block invites to think, how older teachers, trainers and workplace mentors can find their own ways to use such tools to promote vocational learning. Also, it invites to think, how younger learners can best familiarise themselves with work processes, uses of traditional tools and digital tools in their own learning.

The third thematic block presents a set of parallel “Innovation paths” for introducing digital tools into vocational learning contexts and to enhance the digital competences of teachers, trainers and learners. Four of these paths have been named on the basis of specific projects or their final products – the Kompetenzwerkstatt, Learning Toolbox, Brofessio and CARO paths. The fifth path refers to smart uses of Open Educational Resources (OER). This block invites to think, what kind of vocational learning contexts are relevant for the user and what can be learned from the exemplary cases.

The fourth thematic block presents insights into the TACCLE4 CPD Routemap tool and its uses for organisational planning (of the use of ICT resources) and development of training (with focus on promoting digital competences). For both purposes the Routemap outlines levels of proficiency with corresponding criteria. In this way the tool invites to think, at what stage is the organisation regarding its use of ICT resources and what kind of steps can be taken with the help of training.

Altogether, the framework invites the readers to think of their own solutions and to find their own ways to promote digital competences in their field. Thus, the framework provides starting points and gives further impulses and references for further developmental work.

I guess that this is enough of the idea of the Theme room Training 2020 framework. I need to emphasise that it is still under construction. As I see it, the texts for the thematic blocks have already been shaped. Yet, each block needs a further layer for comments, questions, resources and impulses. So, there is still some more work to be done.

More blogs to come …

 

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

November 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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

November 24th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

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