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 …

 

 

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) …

Remembering Kerstin Engraf

June 10th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

Earlier this week we received the sad news that Kerstin Engraf, our friend and colleague from the Learning Layers project, had passed away. This was very shocking to us, because we had always learned to know her as a very lively and energetic person and we were expecting her to keep healthy. None of us could have expected this to happen. Below I try to summarise some of my memories of her in a nutshell.

Rembering Kerstin as a key actor in developing continuing vocational training at Bau-ABC Rostrup

We (researchers of ITB, University of Bremen) learned to know Kerstin Engraf at the beginning of the Learning Layers (LL) project when Bau-ABC Rostrup, the North-German training centre of construction centre joined in the project as an application partner. During the project most of our work focused on the apprentice training that was managed by full-time trainers (Lehrwerkmeister) and coordinated in Bau-ABC by Melanie Campbell. However, Kerstin, as the head of continuing training (CVT) of Bau-ABC, was interested in being involved in the development work and participated throughout the lifetime of the project. Moreover, she was supporting the launch of a follow-up project that focused on developing digital tools for training and learning in the CVT schemes of Bau-ABC. During this period we came to understand the complexity of the CVT schemes and the management of the sets short-term courses provided by external lecturers and trainers. And we realised that Kerstin had a complete overview and she knew how to manage the system through and through.

Remembering Kerstin as a contributor to the Construction pilot of the LL project

Looking back, I remember that Kerstin was keenly interested initial workshops with which we started to give shape for the Construction pilot activities. At the earliest phase we discussed the prospect of developing a digitized version of the “White Folder” of the apprentices of Bau-ABC. In these discussions we learned a lot, what the trainers expected of the digital support for a culture of action-oriented learning and self-organised learning. These ideas were taken on board, when the co-design work started to shape the Learning Toolbox (LTB) as a digital toolset to support working and learning processes in the construction sector.

Once the design idea had got its shape, Kerstin was eagerly promoting the idea at special events of construction professionals. I still remember her active support for the LL project activities at the national conference of well-builders and borehole builders (Brunnenbauertage) at Bau-ABC in May 2014 and at the North-German trade fair Nordbau in August 2014. In between we had had the LL project consortium meeting at Bau-ABC. Alongside the meeting we had a demonstration space for Bau-ABC apprentices and trainers. At each corner of the meeting room we had demonstration tables with laptops or tablet PCs to present particular digital tools, toolsets and platforms that we were developing. Thanks to Kerstin’s organisational talent we could manage a carrousel event in which over 100 apprentices and trainers rotated through each demonstration table as small groups whilst members of project team presented briefly the work with the tools.

A very special contribution to the project was the preparation of the Bau-ABC videos (August-September 2014). These were designed give the project consortium an idea, what the trainers and apprentices were expecting of working and learning with the Learning Toolbox. This was of vital importance, since the design work was at a very early stage and the we only had a mock-up version of the toolset to be programmed. In the production of these videos Kerstin was eagerly involved and demonstrated her enthusiasm when editing the videos. Below you see exemplary video that presents the work with trainers’ blogs (predecessors of Learning Toolbox stacks). Here the handwriting of Kerstin is clearly visible (the speed and the music).

Later on, Kerstin was actively involved in developing and implementing a new kind of training concept – the Theme Room training – for all training staff of Bau-ABC. The idea came from the trainers themselves and they had already discussed some key principles, how to put it into practice. Kerstin and Melanie Campbell brought this into discussion in the LL project and it was implemented as a local training campaign during November 2015. The aim was to provide all Bau-ABC trainers basic multimedia competences with focus on vocational learning. The training was run by a pair of peer tutors (one from the trainers and one from the researchers). The training was shaped for four themes (that were covered by respective digital learning space) and the training took place on Friday afternoons. Kerstin was involved in the planning but chose to take the role of learner – and enjoyed it greatly.

Remembering Kerstin as a participant in the consortium meetings

Because of her primary duties Kerstin was not always able to participate in the transnational consortium meetings. But when she had the opportunity, she was very present in many ways. In particular she was actively covering the meetings with photos that were uploaded into the Facebook group “Learning Layers”. And she was also interested in covering the social and natural environments of the meeting venues. Some of these photos she shared on her Facebook page. Thus, we can refresh our memories of the meetings, the sites and extra-curricular activities in Graz, Innsbruck, Tallinn and Espoo. And of course, the project consortium meeting at Bau-ABC Rostrup and the social events at the nearby Bad Zwischenahn (including the lake cruise on the Zwischenahner Meer) were highlights to her and to all of us (as the photo below shows).

These memories have only been glimpses to the time when we worked together and to the activities that we carried out together. I hope that they have given a picture of a friend and colleague whom we learned to appreciate. Kerstin has gone but the work that we have done bears fruit and the good memories bring us forward.

Rest in peace, Kerstin!

 

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 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 …

 

 

 

And the Award goes to … Learning Layers!

November 10th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

The third European Vocational Skills Week (EVSW) took place this week in Vienna (Wien). The event has been launched by the European Commission to draw attention to the importance of vocational education and training (VET) for education, economy and society. Our European VETNET network has also played a role in drawing attention to the contribution of VET research to the development of VET. However, due to several intervening factors I have not been able to attend to these events. Yet, this time I was somewhat more engaged in the preparation and followed more keenly the news from Vienna.

The competition for European VET Excellence Awards 2018

As usual, during the EVSW, there was also this year the competition for European VET Excellence Awards for different kinds of contributions to the development of VET. In the category “European VET Research Excellence” the jury had nominated two European research projects for the final competition:

  • The Learning Layers (LL) project that carried out a complex Europe-wide R&D project for studying the use of digital tools, web resources and mobile technologies to support learning in the context of work. The project engaged application partners in healthcare sector (UK) and construction sector (Germany) in co-design, pilot testing and actual use of new tools. In the competition the project was represented by the scientific coordinator Tobias Ley from Tallinn University.
  • The Modelling Vocational Excellence (MoVE) project is a transnational project that has studied World Skills competitions at the national, European and wider international contexts. The aim of the project is to draw conclusions from competition processes for the development of everyday life practice in the field of VET. This project was represented by the scientific coordinator Petri Nokelainen from Tampere University.

After the nomination the finalists were presented on a special website for public voting that took place during the last weeks before the event and during the first two days. On the evening before the closing ceremony the finalists in different catergories had the opportunity to give short pitches to make their case. Then, in the closing ceremony the nominees of each category were invited and the winner was declared. Concerning the award for VET Research Excellence I was pleased to see a video recording and to hear the words: “The award goes to … Learning Layers”. As fair competitors Petri and Tobias congratulated each other. And then Commissioner Marianne Thyssen handed the award to Tobias Ley.

Learning Layers Awarded 2018-11-09Learning Layers Awarded 2018Tobias with the award

Celebrating the award winner Learning Layers

Firstly, let us do justice to both finalists – the two international projects and the teams involved – and for the fair competition. This was a good way to present European and international VET research at such an event.

Then, coming to our Learning Layers project: Why are we so happy that we got the award fror European research in the field of VET (vocational education and training)? Here I am speaking in particular for the partners of the Construction pilot – research partners, technical partners and application partners from the construction sector. I would like to raise the following arguments for us as award winners:

  1. A substantial part of Learning Layers pilot activities were carried out in the context of apprentice training for construction sector in North Germany. In this context the project was developing a digital toolset “Learning Toolbox” to support work process-oriented learning. Now, in the initial pilot context – the training centre Bau-ABC – the Learning Toolbox will be introduced to the training of all occupations.
  2. The co-design and tools deployment processes were carried out as participative Research & Development dialogue. In this dialogue practitioners, technical partners were developing tools that promote a culture of self-organised learning in different craft trades.
  3. The project organised training of trainers in such a way that they could act as promoters of innovation and adjust the use of tools to match their pedagogic priorities (self-organised search of knowledge within a wide set of resources vs. gradual extension of resources that are available for learner). The ‘theme room’ approach is being used in the further promotion of the tools by other trainers.
  4. After the end of the Learning Layers project there have been several follow-up initiatives to spread the use of Learning Toolbox to support practice-based learning in Vocational and Higher Education (e.g. in Estonia and Spain). These pilots have involved also other sectors (e.g. education/training in healthcare and media occupations).
  5. A major spin-off arising from the Learning Layers is the use of Learning Toolbox as support for ePosters in conferences. This was started in the conferences for medical and dental education (AMEE, ADEE) and in the conference for technology-enhanced learning (ECTEL). Most recently the ePosters were piloted in the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) in the network for research in vocational education and training (VETNET).

The points above make it clear that the Learning Layers project was not merely a theory-driven or a tool-driven project. Instead, the project took a high risk in launching open-ended co-design processes and was very much dependent on the cooperation with practitioners in the pilot sectors. Moreover, the tools that were developed in the project – notably the Learning Toolbox – reached the stage of viable products. But in order to bring them further as tools for regular use, additional efforts were needed by the tool developers, practitioners and supporting researchers. These efforts have pointed out to be successful and it was fortunate that reports on recent success were communicated in the event. Thus, the award was a recognition of all the work that contributed to our success. Now we can celebrate, next week we have to take further steps in our work.

More blogs to come …

Bringing Learning Toolbox to wider use in training for construction sector

November 5th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Last week I returned from my long sick leave. And I had immediately the possibility to attend a working meeting at the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. With this training centre we had worked in the EU-funded Learning Layers project many years to develop digital tools to support work process -oriented learning. During the project we reached the stage that Learning Toolbox (LTB) was ready as a viable product to support training and learning processes. The pilot testing in the final phase of the project proved that trainers and apprentices can use the toolset in their training processes. Yet, there were several practical issues that slowed down a wider use of the LTB. Thus, the trainers that had been involved in the pilot testing kept on using the toolset but a wider use was delayed.

Now, in our meeting last week we were facing a new situation. In the meantime most of the hurdles had been overcome and there was full confidence among all parties involved that LTB can be introduced in the apprentice training of Bau-ABC for all trades, Now the pioneering trainers, the management/administration representatives and the LTB developers were discussing, how to support a full-scale implementation of the toolset. From this perspective there was a need to harmonise the use of LTB stacks across the trades and to ensure effective ICT support. Secondly, there was a need to create awareness of good practice in different trades and to share experiences across the trades. In this context the presence of us – researchers from the research institute ITB – was relevant, since we are working in TACCLE projects that support training of trainers and we can draw upon the work in Bau-ABC.

WS-participants 1WS-participants 2WS-participants 3

Insights into the uses of LTB to support training in different trades

Here it is not possible to give a complete overview of all the examples that were presented by Bau-ABC trainers representing different trades. Below, I have selected exemplary cases that show, how the use of LTB had been incorporated into the the work process -oriented learning projects of Bau-ABC apprentices:

  1. Pipeline-builders (Rohrleitungebauer) were using LTB to draft joint plans, how prepare the grounds for the pipelines. Instead of just doing the spadework individually, they made their plans as teams – they divided the tasks and allocated responsibilities for controlling.
  2. Road-builders (Strassenbauer) had prepared a comprehensive overview of the machines provided by the company W&N with nutshell versions of users’ guides (based on the original materials).
  3. Tilers (Fliesenleger) had prepared a comprehensive overview of technical tools that were used in their trade with links to the instructions provided by the manufacturers.
  4. Construction plant operators (Baugeräteführer) had prepared electronic forms as checklists for the inspection of the vehicles before starting to use them. Only after completion of the form and reporting that the vehicles were in order the operators got clearance to start working.
  5. Carpenters (Zimmerer) had been working in a joint project “WorkCamp GreenHouse” with other training centres in Germany. In the project they had developed several modules for ecological construction work (focusing on their trade and the use of materials). In this project they had used LTB as a common toolset and developed a common project plan structure to guide the creation of mother stacks and daughter stacks.
  6. In the area “Health and Safety” (Arbeitssicherheit und Gesundheitsschutz) trainers from different trade had worked together to shape a common stack structure that presents the overarching regulations and the local instructions in the training centre. Within this structure different trades had the possibility to present trade-specific content (e.g. concerning their trade-specific personal safety outfits).
  7. In all trades the apprentices (Auszubildende) were using the LTB to upload photos as progress reports on their work and learning in the projects. The trainers used specific background colours for the tiles that documented apprentices’ work.

LWM-stacks 1LWM-stacks 2LWM-stacks 3

The relevance of the recent progress for apprentice training and vocational learning

If the points that I have listed above are taken only as separate inputs with dedicated tools, it would not appear very “revolutionary”. But the essence of the recent progress is that the trainers are working with an integrative digital toolset – the LTB. They have already used LTB for giving instructions and worksheets for apprentices’ projects. Now, with these newer features the range of using LTB in working and learning contexts is expanding. And – as already mentioned – the trainers are themselves leading the innovation and sharing experience with each other. Moreover, for the apprentices the use of LTB is not just a matter of receiving instructions and reporting of the completion of their tasks. As we have seen it from the examples, the use of LTB requires from them a holistic view on their projects and a professional attitude to completion of the tasks. This has been the spirit of working with the LTB in Bau-ABC.

Now, at this stage we were happy to see that Bau-ABC is organising the wider use of the LTB independently of externally funded projects and within its own organisational frameworks – in collaboration with the LTB developers. And, moreover, Bau-ABC is looking for ways to spread the use of LTB across its professional networks. As we see it, the work of the Learning Layers project bears fruit! We – as accompanying researchers – are happy to observe this also in the future.

More blogs to come …

Remembering Jenny Hughes – Part Two: Reflections on the TACCLE projects

October 31st, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

This post is a continuation of my previous post in which I gave a picture of my long-term cooperation with Jenny Hughes who sadly passed away last Sunday. When discussing different themes I mentioned that I would get back to the TACCLE projects in a separate post. This was not only due to the fact that the TACCLE projects have been the flagship projects in Jenny’s career and their continuation proves that they have been a success story. However important this may be alone, another argument is that I have authentic video material in which Jenny reflects the experience earlier TACCLE projects and outlines her plans for forthcoming projects. This discussion was recorded for another European project (Co-op PBL in VET) in 2012 but it was reused and republished couple of times in the context of the Learning Layers project. The introductory text below is based on my earlier blog of April this year. Let us give the floor for Jenny with this adapted text and the videos!

The continuing learning process through different TACCLE projects

The series of TACCLE projects started with the first TACCLE project (Teachers’ Aids on Creating Content for Learning Environments) that worked in 2008 and 2009. It prepared an E-learning handbook to support the e-learning competences of  classroom teachers. In the Taccle2 project the work was differentiated to address different subject areas and alongside them the primary education teachers. In the Taccle3 the emphasis on teaching programming and coding for school children. The  project Taccle4 focuses on developing materials and media to support continuing professional development of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. The most recent project – Taccle5 – focuses primarily on the field of vocational education and training (VET). As the following two interviews were recorded already in 2012, so the it was not quite clear, in what order the successor projects would come up, but the vision was clear – this work merits to be continued.

And the story goes on …

As I have indicated above, the series of Taccle project was continued to a somewhat different direction than anticipated in the video interview above. The next theme (and target group) to be picked up after the subject teachers in Taccle2 pointed out to be teaching coding in primary schools (Taccle 3). This was a clear response to new educational priorities at European and national levels. The theme ‘continuing professional development of teachers’ (Taccle4) was an urgent need because the resources of Taccle partners were not sufficient to meet the demand for Taccle courses. And finally, the field of VET was taken up in the Taccle5 project.

As we sense it from the videos, Jenny had put her heart and soul into the work in these projects. She learned a lot, how to bring these new competences to teachers in such a way that they became owners of their own learning. She also learned. how to meet the demands of the time. In Taccle1 it was necessary to work with hard copy book to get the teachers on board. In Taccle2 it was necessary to move to an online platform in order to manage the multiple contexts. In Taccle3 it was necessary to bring the coding specialists into work with teachers. All this required learning and mutual adjustment.

As I have said it earlier, we have lost Jenny but we have learned a lot of her and we can work further in the same spirit.

More blogs to come …

 

Highlights from the Pontydysgu Studio – Learning lessons from key projects

April 20th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

In my previous post I wrote down some memories of the so-called Pontydysgu Studio in Bremen, now that that ‘studio’ has been closed and the Pontydysgu activities are continued mainly in Wales (Pontydysgu Ltd) and in Spain (Pontydysgu SL). With that post I tried to give an overview on the work with multimedia (in general) and as a part of our joint projects. With this post I want to give the floor to key actors of Pontydysgu – Jenny Hughes and Graham Attwell. In the year 2012 I made some video interviews for my project of that time. In the interviews with Jenny and Graham I asked them to tell what they had learned in some of their key projects and how these lessons could be taken further to possible successor projects.

Jenny: The continuing learning process through different TACCLE projects

Among the Pontydysgu-led or -supported projects the series of TACCLE projects is a clear success story. It started with the first TACCLE project (Teachers’ Aids on Creating Content for Learning Environments) that prepared an E-learning handbook for teachers classroom teachers. In the Taccle2 project the work was differentiated to address different subject areas and alongside them the primary education teachers. In the Taccle3 the emphasis on teaching programming and coding for school children. And the (so far) newest project Taccle4 focuses on developing materials and media to support continuing professional development of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. The following two interviews were recorded already in 2012, so the it was not quite clear, in what order the successor projects would come up, but the vision was clear – this work merits to be continued.

Graham: Lessons from predecessor projects – conclusions for the Learning Layers project

In the videos above  Jenny discussed a clear continuum of projects and a training and learning strategy that was developed further in the successive steps. In this respect the interviews with Graham were somewhat different. Firstly, they covered a longer period and a wider range of projects in which very different experiences could be made. Secondly, in the latter videos they focused on comparing the predecessor projects with the forthcoming Learning Layers project. Therefore, I have selected the two latest videos for this post – the discussion on the immediate predecessor project and the shift of emphasis to the new project. Here it is worthwhile to note what challenges Graham brought into discussion and how he expected us to meet the challenges.

I think this is enough of these highlights. To me, both sets of videos have very timely messages for our current projects. I Jenny’s case we are talking of the Taccle4 project to support continuing professional development of teachers and trainers. In Graham’s case we are talking about the successor activities of the Learning Layers project and its construction pilot – now that we can build upon the Learning Toolbox (LTB) that was developed in the project. Yet, the message  – that we have to meet the challenges of the construction sector partners in their complexity – is very valid. And at the same time we have to be able to address these needs by customising the LTB and by complementary measures – training, introduction of additional software solutions and by participative co-design processes. This work is still going on.

More blogs to come …

Bye bye “Pontydysgu Studio” – good luck Pontydysgu Ltd & Pontydysgu SL!

April 20th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Pontydysgu headquarters in Pontypridd, Wales and ‘Pontydysgu Studio’ as its filial in Bremen – that is how we have experienced it quite a long time. The name “Pontydysgu Studio” was used by Graham Attwell and Dirk Stieglitz when they worked with projects that had a radio program as its major contribution. Altogether, the years when that ‘studio’ was used, they were to a great extent characterised by multimedia, radio and video productions, e-learning … all this as a support for learning in the context of work. But then came the time for changes. Pontydysgu Ltd will continue as usual, but next to it there is the Valencia-based Pontydysgu SL. And alongside these changes the “Pontydysgu Studio” was closed. This week Graham and several friends have emptied it and closed that chapter of Pontydysgu history. Bye bye Pontydysgu Studio, good luck with Pontydysgu Ltd and Pontydysgu SL! I give the word to Paul McCartney to spell out his greetings:

Memories of the “Pontydysgu Studio” and of our joint activities of that era

My earliest memories on working in and with this Pontydysgu Studio go to the years 2004-2005 just before I started working in ITB and the University of Bremen (but had already got the status of Visiting Fellow). Graham had already become a renown blogger with his “Wales-Wide-Web” and he was promoting Open Source software in Education. We remember the pioneering project SIGOSSEE that brought several key actors together. And in the next phase the successor project Bazaar started to look at possibilities to spread out Open Educational Resources by different stalls under the common umbrella of the Bazaar. However, the greatest success story of this project was the radio program “Sounds of the Bazaar” that was continued in several successor projects. And it was then followed by other similar radio initiatives like the conference radio programs for Online Educa Berlin (OEB) or European Conference on Educational Research (ECER). During these years several radio interviews were also made with international guests visiting the Pontydysgu Studio – I still remember the interviews with Ji Li and Tien Je from Beijing, Nikitas from Athens, Lewis and Libby from Melbourne and several others.

But our cooperation was not only about multimedia, there were many research & development projects and initiatives in the field of vocational education and training (VET). Here it is worthwhile to mention that Graham had been recognised as a life-time Visiting Fellow (Gastwissenschaftler) of ITB. So, research in VET had a high priority. However, thanks to Graham and Dirk, the web and multimedia components started to play a greater role in these projects – one after another. And when these components started to become increasingly important, the projects became ‘learning laboratories’ for the research partners as well. Here I try to give a more or less comprehensive overview of projects or initiatives in which we (me and my ITB colleagues) have worked together with Pontydysgu during those years. After the acronym of the project and a nutshell description I have added in brackets the work with multimedia and web resources:

  • WLP – Workplace Learning Partnerships (Project website that was enriched with project blog, project wiki and a gallery of video interviews and external video clips);
  • TTplus – Framework for training of trainers (Conceptual and field-oriented project, summarised in a project wiki);
  • iKoopNet – Initiative for a networked project to introduce e-portfolios and digital tools to vocational learning (was given up because the leading industrial partner was hit severely by the economic crisis);
  • “Trainers in Europe” (EuroTrainer 2) – A network activity based on a Europe-wide consortium to promote networking among workplace trainers and trainers of training centres (Creation of a network platform with many communication and sharing functions);
  • “Consultation seminars” – Europe-wide series of ‘regional’ consultation seminars (for different stakeholders) to discuss the role of common frameworks for promoting professional development of trainers (Web platform to bring together the results of different regional workshops; enriched with video material from the latest workshops);
  • Euronet-PBL – promoting practice-based learning as a work-related learning component in higher education with focus on three domains – engineering, business management, vocational teacher education (Web platform enriched with project blog and a number of video interviews with partners and students);
  • Politics – promoting learning about politics by means of storytelling, media commentaries and informal learning (Creation of a single platform with sections using multiple languages and with different kinds of ‘educational resources’, ‘competitions’ and storytelling components);
  • Coop-PBL in VET – transnational project for sharing knowledge on problem- and project-based learning in VET with support of specific learning software and ‘virtual community’ section (Pontydysgu was not a partner but supported me in producing a large section of video interviews into the ‘virtual community’);
  • Learning Layers – Major European research, technology and development (RTD) project funded from EU FP7 with a several technical, research-oriented and intermediate partners as well as application partners from two pilot sectors (construction and healthcare); the aim was to support learning and knowledge processes in SMEs with the help of widely usable digital tools (that networked web resources and were available as mobile apps). (Pontydsygu was leading the work package in which the digital toolset “Learning Toolbox (LTB” was initiated, developed and piloted in a highly participative and interactive process).

I guess this is enough of the memories and of the project history. A lot of working and learning was involved in those activities that in many respects were linked to this famous “Pontydysgu Studio” (and to its extension, the “Pontydysgu Meeting Room” further down at Horner Strasse). Those were the days, but times – they are a-cha-anging as the old song tells us. So, we say goodbye to the Pontydysgu Studio with good memories in our minds and wish all the best to Pontydysgu Ltd and Pontydysgu SL in the new situation.

More blogs to come …

 

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