New report for TACCLE 4 CPD on Artificial Intelligence and progress with Learning Toolbox

September 29th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

At the end of last year I wrote a series of blog posts with which I presented a set of reports that I had delivered for the EU-funded project TACCLE4 CPD. As regular readers of this blog know, the aim of the project is to design models for continuing professional development (CPD) that focus on promoting digital competences of teachers and trainers. The earlier TACCLE projects had focused mainly on school-based and subject-based learning in general education. However, in the concept of the current project the aim was also to address also the  field of vocational education and training (VET). From this perspective our institute, Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB) was invited as the partner responsible for VET.

During the work I found it necessary to prepare special VET-related reports to clarify the boundary conditions, specific needs and emerging potentials for shaping VET-related approaches to promoting digital competences. From this perspective I presented in November and December 2019 the following set of  VET-related reports:

  • Report 1: Policy analyses (with focus on different contexts, approaches and strategies to promote digital competences in the field of VET
  • Report 2: Legacy of predecessor projects (with a differentiated interpretation of the approaches of prior TACCLE projects and the Learning Layers project)
  • Report 3: Use of Open Educational Resources in VET (with specific insights into the opportunities to use OER in particular vocational learning contexts)
  • Report 4a: Research-based reflections on strategies and training models (with specific emphasis on different innovation paths and feedback from practitioners)
  • Report 4b: The “Theme Room Training 2020” framework (as an outline of a training concept for the field of VET, based on different thematic blocks)

At that time I felt that the series of VET-related reports had been completed.

Elements on the report – training on Artificial Intelligence and uses of Learning Toolbox

During the later phase of the TACCLE4 CPD project I had some exchanges with the newest TACCLE project on Artificial Intelligence and Vocational Education and Training (AI and VET). I visited their kick-off meeting and learned about their project plans. Then I became aware of the Finnish  initiative “Elements of Artificial Intelligence” that was promoted as important civic learning for the whole civil society. And later on I got access to the first report on the project AI and VET and became aware of the issues that they had explored in the initial phase of their work. This gave rise to a blog post on the challenges for civic learning (in general) and for VET providers (in particular).

In addition to this I have had intensive exchanges with the developers of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) who were our former partners from the Learning Layers (LL) project (see my previous blogs). In this way I got information, how training centres equipped their apprentices for independent learning during the corona crisis – with the help of LTB-stacks. Also, I learned how the LTB-developers made use of the quiet period by preparing new instructions and demonstration videos. Furthermore, I learned of the successful use of LTB as support for ePosters in online conferences and workshops. Finally, the publishing of the new Learning Toolbox Showcase made transparent the wide range of conferences and themes that had been covered by numerous ePosters. I have shared this information by publishing several blog posts.

The idea of a new report takes shape

When writing this blogs I was focusing on separate issues. And indeed – the themes ‘training on artificial intelligence’ and ‘reporting on successful use of Learning Toolbox’ seemed to be different cups of tea (or different pairs of shoes). However, once I got further with the blogs on using Learning Toolbox – during the training in exceptional times and in the transformation of conferences into online events – I found a new perspective. Both themes can be treated with the help of a similar (non-linear) story line: facing a challenge – search for an approach – finding a solution – piloting with innovation – facing new challenges with the innovation – transfer of innovation. In this context I wanted to draw attention to the ideas that came up with the training initiatives that link to each other civic learning and vocational learning when introducing artificial intelligence in working life. Furthermore, I wanted to underline the aspect of re-inventing the ordinary practice when adjusting vocational learning or conference cultures into new constraints – when contact learning and presence events are no longer available. As I see it, the work with Learning Toolbox has progressed in a fantastic way but remains work in progress.

The report “Promoting digital competences beyond the accustomed realm of ICT skills – New challenges for civic learning and continuing professional development” is already available on ResearchGate and will be published on the website of the TACCLE4 CPD project.

With these reflections this report completes the series of VET-related reports for the TACCLE4 CPD project. As I see it, this report links current expertise on promoting digital competences to future-oriented challenges and to continuing professional development in real working life. We have put a lot of effort in this project but there is a lot of work for future projects.

More blogs to come …

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

June 5th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come …

 

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

April 17th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

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

ECTEL and the complete online conference

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

Issues and challenges for online events

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

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

More blogs to come …

Quiet period in education and training activities – What news on the project fronts?

April 6th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Normally I am populating this blog with reports on field visits and project meetings or on emerging results. Right now we are in the middle of a very quiet period. The hitherto normal activities of education and training providers have been closed due to the spread of the corona virus. And in a similar way all face-to-face meetings – whether project meetings, field visits or workshops with local/regional partners – all such events have been cancelled or postponed. So, it is very quiet right now. But yet, it is worthwhile to look at the possibilities that digital tools and online services may provide under such circumstances.

Indeed, as Graham Attwell mentioned in the online meeting of our TACCLE4 CPD last week, this crisis has been a strong push for teachers and trainers to move their activities online. What has been so far considered as a sideline opportunity – something complementary to the ‘regular’ teaching and training in presence – has to be considered as the remaining main option. From this point of view teachers, trainers and university lecturers are making rapid progress in implementing new online learning solutions in their own context. And at the same time developers of online learning platforms and software solutions are doing their best to support such transitions. All this is reflected in many online conferences and meetings. So, even during this quiet period, there are several new developments that need our attention.

From this point of view we discussed the role of our next transnational meeting – which we cannot organise as a face-to-face meeting but as an online meeting. Nevertheless, we agreed to book time slots to catch up with these new developments in online learning and in knowledge sharing within online communities. Also, we discussed the prospects to organise the forthcoming Multiplier events of the project as online events (and to use new formats for such events). Here, we need some time for further planning. BUT, if we want to capture the most valuable fruits of the new developments, we would need to organise the events at a time when our target groups – teachers and trainers – are getting back to the new normality after the period of lockdown. Therefore, I hope that the funding agencies are flexible enough to extend the working periods of projects like ours.

At any rate, I am trying to bring myself back to working mode (at least after the Easter period) and catch up with my friends and colleagues who are closer to new developments. Let us see, what all we will find out.

More blogs to come …

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