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

December 9th, 2020 by Pekka Kamarainen

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

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

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

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

Research & development work in action vs. observation from afar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More blogs to come (but from different perspective) …

 

 

 

 

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) …

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 …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Five: Debates on VET research (past, present, future)

September 9th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With this blog post I conclude a series of posts on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2019) that took place earlier last week in Hamburg, Germany. The first post focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network (including background information on VETNET and other networks). The second post focused on the sessions that discussed the ongoing TACCLE projects (in which I and my colleagues are working). The third post focused on presentations that have an immediate relevance for the TACCLE project. The fourth post gave an account on recent developments in the VETNET network. With this final post I give insights into debates on VET research at different phase of the development of the VET research community.

The earliest phase: From ‘who is who’ to ‘networking the networks’

In the earliest phase of the VETNET network (when the setting up of the organisational structures was moving slowly) we were in the process of finding ourselves. It appeared that we represented different academic backgrounds, institutional affiliations and research interests. Some of us were from discipline-based institutes carrying out individual research in national contexts. Some of us came from interdisciplinary and policy-linked institutes with complex research & development projects. Some of us were already at that time working primarily in European projects with comparative and/or collaborative research designs. This gave rise to different views on, what kind of research activities and results should be presented in the conferences. One of the issues was, whether we should accept only completed research projects presented final results or whether we should give room for ongoing research projects to present their way s to common approaches. Luckily enough we found a working consensus that provided a basis for mutual respect and learning from each other.

Concerning the European cooperation projects we (who were working in them or with them) tried to develop sessions that promote learning from each other. Firstly we had symposia that promoted dialogue between parallel projects with closely matching themes. In the next phase we had ‘meeting point’ events for networks and journals. At a later date we tried to work with ‘growth of knowledge’ symposia that re-examined completed projects and platform-oriented symposia that tried to develop knowledge sharing platforms for specific project areas. This all belonged to the phase of ‘networking the networks’. Looking back, these activities were niche initiatives within the research community, supported by digital tools that were in their infancy and in a very early evolutionary phase of European cooperation.

The transitional phase: From critique on European Qualification Framework (EQF) to search for new themes

In the subsequent phase the inner life in the VETNET network had got settled and the VETNET board was working as a collective team. The diversity of VET research was kept in mind with a set of descriptors (key themes) that were used to organise the conference sessions. However, at this phase role of European cooperation was changing. Instead of discussing their own innovation agendas they were becoming more dependent on European policies  and moving to new funding priorities. This brought into picture projects on making the European Qualification Framework (EQF), the European system of Credit Transfer in VET (ECVET), European models for e-Learning, evaluation frameworks for European projects and specific projects for ‘target groups’. Here I do not want argue that such themes couldn’t be innovative. Yet, the search for common grounds was taking place within policy-based priority areas.

However, during this period the community developed a culture of critical reflection on the policy concepts with which it was working. In several ECER conferences there were symposia in which we had critical discussions on the eclectic nature of the above frameworks. Also, we had analyses on the limited ‘unifying’ impact of qualification frameworks on VET cultures in countries that have similar frameworks. This prepared the grounds for moving to themes that look at new drivers of innovation and on the role of VET in contributing to change agendas.

The newest phase: Coming together to shape a European VET research agenda

Concerning the development towards the newest phase we need to note the achievements that I have mentioned in my previous blog post – the launch of the new journal IJRVET, the emergence of the new international conferences and the progress with book publications. Parallel to this the VETNET network initiated a global network under the umbrella of World Educational Research Association (WERA) with focus on internationalisation in VET research. This has broadened the range of participation and intensified the  international exchanges beyond Europe.  This has also contributed to a stronger conceptual orientation in European and international VET research. This can be seen in particular in a more differentiated and critical look at transfer of policies, VET arrangements and innovation concepts between different countries and global regions.

In this respect there has been an ongoing discussion on European VET research agenda in several ECER conferences. At ECER 2019 the discussion was guided by the challenge to promote integration of knowledge in VET research. On a more pragmatic level this discussion focused on a planning tool for VETNET sessions – how to bring different level (macro-, meso- and miro-level) in a common thematic area into dialogue with each other. Here we noted some progress in the sessions of this conference. Secondly, this challenge was discussed from the perspective, how to present ourselves and our messages to policy-makers and other stakeholders. Thirdly, this was discussed from the perspective of reviewing knowledge development in VET research in review articles.

Concerning the project work and conference sessions, this spirit has been present among others in sessions that focus on proactive preparation to new funding frameworks for innovation programmes. Also, this spirit has characterised sessions that discuss the role of researchers as catalysts of sustainable innovations and quality-awareness in larger R&D programmes. Finally, this spirit has become manifest in sessions on grassroot projects in which researchers study community-building processes that aim to improve pedagogic quality of VET.

I guess this is enough of the debates on VET research in the VETNET network. As I see it, we have come a long way forward from the very early phases of the community development. Thinking of the current phase, we are rather well prepared for future challenges. For me, as someone who has been involved from the beginning, this is very rewarding. Now that my time with ECER and active VETNET involvement is coming to an end, I can look forward to the future with an optimistic feeling. However, I have not finished my work yet and I have to put an effort to finish properly.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part Four: Developments in the VETNET network

September 8th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my recent blogs I have been wrapping up my experiences on the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2019) that took place earlier this week in Hamburg, Germany. The first post focused on the Opening session of the VETNET network (including background information on VETNET and other networks). The second post focused on the sessions that discussed the ongoing TACCLE projects (in which I and my colleagues are working). The third post focused on presentations that have an immdeiate relevance for the TACCLE project. In this fourth post I try to give insights into recent developments in the VETNET network.

Organisational consolidation of the VETNET network

As I have already mentioned in my first post, the ECER conferences are organised by the European Educational Research Association (EERA). EERA was founded in 1994 as the European umbrella organisation of national associations for educational research. Whilst the representatives of the national associations are in charge of the management, the development of the conference programs is the matter of networks. EERA has currently 32 thematic networks (and the Emerging Researchers Group) that each prepare and run a network program in the annual ECER conference.

The VETNET network is one of the oldest and largest networks and it has from the very beginning had an identity of its own kind. It has brought together researchers who focus on vocational education and training (VET) and who may have somewhat different academic backgrounds. However, there has been a strong commitment to develop a European research community that is open for interested colleagues outside Europe. In this respect VETNET started to shape organisational structures and develop common procedures at an early stage. By the year 2000 it got an elected network board that was working on the basis of jointly approved regulations. Parallel to this the network consolidated the pattern of double-blind peer reviews of conference proposals. By 2004 it got its first pilot website to present the conference program and the contributions.

During the years of growth the issue of membership had been kept open. The liberal interpretation was that all who participated in the VETNET program were also invited to participate in the VETNET assembly as members. By the time that the VETNET activities beyond the ECER conference started to get more standing (see below) this was too ambiguous. Therefore a task force led by Johanna Lasonen – together with the link convenors Barbara Stalder and Christof Nägele – prepared new regulations. These were then matched with the guidelines that EERA prepared and presented at the VETNET assembly. Based on the new regulations, a new VETNET board will be elected in ECER 2020.

International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET) and the Vetnetsite

From the year 2000 on VETNET has had the intention to set up a journal for European and international VET research. At that time a working group was negotiating with a commercial publisher. After a period of latency (due to organisational rearrangements on the publishers’ side) the first initiative led to creation of a journal without VETNET involvement. Few years later the idea was brought back to discussion – now with the intention to set up Open Access journal using an appropriate platform. By ECER 2013 the concept was prepared to maturity and by ECER 2014 the first issue was published. Here it is worthwhile to note that the journal was launched as an international journal (and it reached a wider international support). During the years after, the journal has been published on regular basis, its status has been acknowledged and it is being used as the organ of VETNET. A special step forward was taken when the articles of the years 2017 and 2018 were made available as the respective IJRVET Yearbooks.

Parallel to this, the earlier pilot websites for publicising the VETNET conference program and sharing the presentations have been replaced by the current Vetnetsite.

Conferences, interim conferences and proceedings

Alongside the founding of ht IJRVET the VETNET network has made progress with interim conferences and with publishing the conference proceedings. At an earlier stage, during the preparation for ECER 1999 the VETNET program chair Johanna Lasonen managed to get the conference papers in time and published a hard copy proceedings publication by the conference. In the subsequent conferences this was not achieved. An interim solution was the collection of papers and/or powerpoint presentations to the VETNET website or to a separate proceedings page provided by Sabine Manning on her Wifogate website. During the recent years the link convenors Christof Nägele and Barbara Stalder have introduced the process of preparing and editing the annual proceedings by the conference.

Parallel to this development the VETNET network has got a settlement with two regular ‘interim conferences’. Stockholm University has had quite some time a tradition of annual cruise conference in May. Another conference tradition emerged when the University of Bremen (2015) and the University of Rostock (2017) organised international VET research conferences shortly before ECER with the theme “Crossing boundaries in VET research”. In 2017 an agreement was reached to organise these conferences every two year in May. Thus, in May 2018 we had the Stockholm conference, whilst in May 2019 we had the “Crossing boundaries” conference in Valencia. And the most important is that the proceedings of these conferences have been prepared by the conference. With the Stockholm conferences the production of book publications has taken place after the conferences.

Higher standing of VETNET network as a European expert network

Alongside these developments the VETNET has gained a higher standing as a European expert network in the field of VET. In particular this has become manifest in the cooperation of the European Commission and in the role that VETNET has got in preparing the European Skills Week. Since 2015 VETNET has been invited to organise a research-related workshop. Also, VETNET has had the task to prepare the nomination for European VET research award in the context of European Skills Week. Taken as such, these have been small steps, but they have also paved the way for proactive discussions on the future European funding programs. In this respect the VETNET board has organised in the recent years round table discussions on European VET research agenda to raise awareness and to strengthen the profile of our research community.

I think this is enough of the developments in the VETNET network. In my final post I will reflect the debates on European VET research that we have had at different phases of the community development.

More blogs to come …

Wrapping up the ECER 2019 experience – Part One: The opening session of the VETNET network

September 7th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Once again, the annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) – organised by the European Educational Research Association (EERA) – has taken place. This time the venue was the University of Hamburg. The advantage for us working at the University of Bremen was that we didn’t have to travel far away. The counter side of the coin was that we were expected to commute between Bremen and Hamburg on daily basis. That cut us off from most of the social events and informal encounters in the evenings. Nevertheless, there was quite a lot to experience and to share with colleagues from all over Europe and beyond Europe. With this series of blog posts I try to cover different sessions in the program of the VETNET network – the research network for the field of vocational education and training (VET) and give some insights into developments in the network. In this first post start with the opening session of the VETNET program. Firstly I need to give some insights into the role of the networks of EERA in organising the conference and of the specific traditions of VETNET.

EERA and ECER as the common umbrella – VETNET as a community with its own identity

When the EERA was founded and started organising the ECER conferences on regular basis, the common umbrella was created in two ways. The EERA was shaped as the umbrella organisation of national associations for educational research. For the shaping of the conferences EERA invited the member associations to propose thematic networks that would then be in charge of organising their section in the conference programs. The network for research in vocational education and training (VET) – from the beginning on known as VETNET – was accepted as the Network 2 of EERA. The number of networks grew rapidly and they developed their own patterns to run peer reviews, to organise social events and to disseminate the research in their area of specialisation.

As a contrast to this general picture, the VETNET network has been from the very beginning more than just one of the EERA networks and a small club for organising part of the ECER program. Already in the founding phase there was a sense of building a community of VET researchers under the EERA umbrella. Yet, we were aware that we had somewhat different discipline-based backgrounds and in some countries the institutional commitment to VET was a basis of special disciplinary structures. Therefore, we have also paid attention to openness and mutual learning across the network.

In this spirit the VETNET network has developed a tradition of common Opening sessions – starting from ECER 1999 in Lahti, Finland (initiated by the VETNET program chair Johanna Lasonen). These opening sessions have mostly been keynote speeches by prominent researchers from the host country – with comments by invited discussants. Sometimes they have been panel discussions on critical research issues or on future research agendas. In ECER 2007 the Opening session celebrated the 10 years’ milestone of VETNET as an active network (as organiser of its own program). In ECER 2018 in Bolzano/Bozen the opening session got insights into VET development in the host region from different stakeholder perspectives (and from representatives of different lingual communities).

The VETNET Opening session at ECER 2019 – insights into apprentice training at Airbus sites in Germany

At the VETNET Opening session 2019 the invited speaker was Matthias Havekost, head of vocational training of Airbus commercial in Germany. He had been an active practitioner counterpart of several VET research projects of our institute (ITB, University of Bremen) and familiar with our research approach. From this perspective it was appropriate to invite him to discuss directly with the participants on the role of apprentice training and other training activities at Airbus sites in Germany.

We got a lot of information on the development of apprentice training in the course of years – regarding the demographic factors (aging workforce), technological changes (balancing between manual work and robotics) and educational changes (developing vocational pathways to higher qualifications). In between we had glimpses to the actual contexts of working and learning on site – provided by videos that were prepared by apprentices and students in so-called dual studies (that are based on a combination of apprentice training and higher education).

An interesting part of the presentation of Havekost was the example of a particular workplace learning arrangement at an early phase of apprentice training. Instead of explaining the task and launching the group work with the task that trainer took considerable time for a ‘teaming up’ phase. At this phase all apprentices were invited to discuss their views on their occupation, their understanding on their tasks and on the requirements. These views were shared in the group and contrastive views were discussed to the point that mutual understanding was reached. In the beginning some of the participants were annoyed by such delay instead of going straight to the task. Yet, it appeared that the group had developed a culture of collaboration and it finished the tasks in shorter time and with better quality than earlier groups. Also, teachers of vocational schools and representatives of production units noticed the change in the performance.

Another interesting aspect alongside the above-mentioned cultural change was the career development of trainers. For Havekost it was important that the in-company trainers are experienced in the production and keep up to date. Therefore, the trainers should be trainers only a certain number of years and not for too long time. This kind of rotation has been successfully implemented and those trainers who went back to other business in the company entered real interesting and adequate jobs (e.g. production, quality, manufacturing engineering).

In the light of the above we had a rich and lively discussion that gave food for thought for different sessions in the VETNET program. Also, we had some discussion on the training culture on other Airbus sites and on the role of VET systems in the respective countries. These issues were also taken up later.

I guess this is enough of the VETNET Opening session. In the following posts I will first report on the sessions that were closely related to my ongoing project, then cover some other themes and finally get back to developments in the VETNET network.

More blogs to come …

Preparing for the ECER 2019 conference – paper, presentation and ePoster

August 23rd, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

The period before and after the summer holiday is usually characterised by preparation for conferences. For me, the highlight of the conference season is the annual European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), organised by the European Educational Research Association (EERA). The ECER 2019 will take place in Hamburg, so not that much travelling from Bremen. But this conference will be something special, since I will go on retirement in the year 2020. So, the tradition of participating in ECER conferences – that started in 1992 and continued regularly since 1996 – it is coming to an end. But, let us leave the memories to a later date! At the moment I am busy preparing my/our contributions for the conference. So, let us have a look, what is going on!

Conference paper and VETNET proceedings

This year I am contributing with only one submission – a joint paper with Angela Gerrard (Pontydysgu) and my former ITB-colleague Werner Müller (now representing stack.services). The (modified) title of the paper is “Strategies and Training Models for promoting Digital Competences in the field of Vocational Education and Training”. This paper focuses on our work in the ongoing EU-funded project TACCLE 4 CPD. As the acronym tells, it is based on the work of prior TACCLE projects.  These have prepared teachers’ aids for creating (digital) content for (web-based) learning environment. The challenge for the current project was to shift the emphasis from direct teacher training to shaping models and patterns for continuing professional development (CPD). And, with this task the project is looking at different educational sectors – including vocational education and training (VET).

The paper gives insights into the development of the TACCLE approach through different projects and changes in working patterns (working with hard copy handbook, shifting to different subject areas and shaping parallel online resources). As a another root project the paper presents the work of the Learning Layers project (co-design of digital tools to support vocational and workplace-based learning). Based on these backgrounds the paper reflects the transition to digital learning culture in the field of VET – including risks, opportunities and hurdles. Taking into account different VET-specific challenges the paper outlines three exemplary ‘Innovation paths’, how to to introduce digital learning culture into vocational curricula and learning arrangements. Then – concerning the promotion of digital competences of teachers and trainers – the paper discusses the European DigCompEdu framework and the local “Theme Room” training model that was developed in the Learning Layers. Altogether, the paper gives a picture, how VET research can contribute to a development-oriented project.

This year – once again – the coordinators of the VETNET network of EERA have invited us to submit out papers before the summer holiday so that they can edit the VETNET proceedings by the conference. This has put us under pressure (to finish the papers before the holiday period) but finally it is rewarding to receive the proceedings by the conference.

Conference presentation and the ePoster

After the summer holiday I have done some other work for the TACCLE 4 CPD project (to be covered in another blog post) and then prepared the conference presentation. This has helped me to take some further steps in the conclusions. However, the major effort was not so much the traditional powerpoint presentation but the ePoster, powered by the Learning Toolbox (LTB).

Last year, before the ECER 2018 in Bolzano/Bozen we had a mini-project of the VETNET network (supported by EERA) to explore the use of ePosters in the VETNET program of ECER. Together with the LTB-developers we arranged that the authors delivered their poster contents via LTB-stacks and used them to present in the VETNET ePoster session. Also, we had a general introductory session for other EERA networks (see my blogs of September 2018). This year we couldn’t continue in the same way but I wanted to keep the idea alive and add new content to the EERA showcase of ePosters. Therefore, I prepared a new stack to present the powerpoint, the full paper and other supporting resources.

ECER 2019 LTB-stack PK ECER-stack Screen2ECER-stack Screen3

This ePoster can be accessed directly via its web link or via the QR-code of the related mini-poster, see below:

Mini-poster PK ECER 2019

So, this is how I have been preparing our contribution to the ECER 2019 together with my co-authors and supported by the LTB-developers. We are looking forward to the conference in Hamburg in a short while.

More blogs to come …

 

Working for Europe – Celebrating Europe – Part One: Personal reflections

May 10th, 2019 by Pekka Kamarainen

Yesterday, the 9th of May, we (citizens of Bremen) celebrated Europe. As we know, the European Union has chosen this date as the Europe-Day. The background is that on this very day in 1950 the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman gave speech in which he outlined a plan to create a European community of producers of coal and steel. This plan was eagerly received by the neighbouring countries and soon led to the founding of the European Economic Community (EEC). Due to several waves of enlargement this closed club transformed itself into the European Union as we know it today. At that time it was not self-evident that the European countries – still recovering from the destructive war and still struggling with the neighbourhood relations – would be able to enter such a community-building process. So, there is a good case to celebrate this community-building process – looking back at the Europe before it was started.

Thinking of my personal career, starting from the year 1994 I have been mostly working for Europe and in European cooperation projects. Firstly, I was sent by the Finnish government to work at Cedefop – European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training – as a national seconded expert. This happened during the time when Finland was a Candidate Country and a member of the European Economic Area. The idea of the Finnish educational authorities was to send a national expert to get experience from the agency and to work Finland more closely into the cooperation. However, this period was overshadowed by change of management in Cedefop and by the high level decision to relocate Cedefop from Berlin to Thessaloniki.

The next phase in my career was when Cedefop moved to Thessaloniki and I got a position as a project manager (temporary EU official) in Cedefop. This happened during the time when Cedefop had lost most of its project managers (who changed to other EU services) and had to start its activities on new grounds. At this point I took a role in promoting European research cooperation in the field of vocational education and training (VET). On the one hand I started monitoring and accompanying European projects that worked with educational innovation agendas. On the other hand I started to organise synergy-promoting seminars in which these projects shared their ideas and results with each other. Thirdly, I initiated cross-project symposia and round tables at the ECER conferences under the umbrella of the VETNET network that was founded in 1996 at the ECER conference in Sevilla. Altogether, these activities and the related publication initiatives supported community-building processes in European VET research.

However, my contract was of limited duration and my activities were not considered as impressive enough or productive enough by all in Cedefop. Whilst the research community appreciated the ‘networking the networks’, I was confronted with questions, where are the results for Cedefop and how this helps to make Cedefop visible for all stakeholders it is supposed to serve. So, in 2002 my temporary contract came to an end and I returned back to Finland.

After a period of looking around and searching for new grounds I was invited to start as a project-based research at Institut Technik & Bildung (ITB), University of Bremen. During the earlier phases of my career I had come to  contact with colleagues at ITB and during my Cedefop years I had intensive cooperation with them. From 2005 on I have been working at ITB primarily in European cooperation projects. And once again, these projects have had a community-building character and they have build on the earlier phase of ‘networking the networks’. So, in this spirit I have been working in projects on workplace learning, training the trainers, learning about politics, practice-based learning in VET and higher education. And finally, a major theme has been to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in VET. All this has been characterised by ‘learning from each other’ and ‘learning for Europe’.

In this spirit the late Jenny Hughes created a Facebook account for the “Learning about Politics” project with the name ‘Learn Politics’. And since this ‘person’ had to announce a birthday, Jenny gave the 9th of May – the Europe-day. I think this was a good choice. When celebrating Europe, we celebrate the community-building processes across Europe.

I guess this is enough of my personal reflections. In my next post I will concentrate on the celebration of the Europan anniversary in Bremen.

More blogs to come …

And the award goes to … Kubify – LTB for ePosters (@LTBePosters)

November 29th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

Some time ago we were pleased to announce the our EU-funded Learning Layers (LL) project had received the European VET Research Excellence 2018 Award in the context of the European Vocational Skills Week 2018 in Vienna. Now we have another reason to celebrate. Our former partners from the LL project who have continued the development of the Learning Toolbox (LTB) with their start-up companies have been successful. The start-up company Kubify that develops LTB for ePosters has won the Tech Watch Award 2018 at the international event of conference organisers.

For us, the LL partners, who have been intensively involved in the co-design, co-development and introduction of LTB in the North-German construction sector, this is great news. Also, we are happy that we have piloted successfully with the ePosters at the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) and in its VETNET section in Bolzano last September. However. looking at the photos from the #IBTMWorld event organisers’ event – see below –  we can observe that our LTB-developers have taken many steps forward. This award is richly deserved!

From the introduction for new users to the creation of users’ own ePosters

Introduction to ePostersePosters for different conferences

Working with ePosters: From the Mini-Poster Wall to user engagement at the ePoster Arena

Mini-Poster WallePoster Arena

The Award Winners and The Award

Kubify Team receiving the AwardThe IBTMworld Award

Congratulations to the award winners and keep on doing the good work! We are very interested in continuing the good cooperation with you – with the LTB and with the ePosters.

More blogs to come …

 

Reflections on #ECER2018 – Part Five: Developments in the VETNET network

September 14th, 2018 by Pekka Kamarainen

With my four previous posts I have shaped a series of blogs on the European Conference of Educational Research (ECER 2018) that took place last week in Bolzano/Bozen. In the first post I reported on the pilot with  ePosters powered by the digital toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB). In the second post I gave an overview on my own contributions – on the research background of the LTB and on ‘transfer of innovation’ issues in recent and earlier innovation projects. In the third post I reported on the Opening Session of our VETNET network (European Vocational Education and Training Research Network) and on some contributions of our Italian colleagues. In the  fourth post I give insights into some of the VETNET sessions that I had attended as a participant.With this fifth – and concluding – post I will focus on the VETNET network and its general assembly.

Successful preparation – successful participation

The convenors of the VETNET network – Christof Nägele and Barbara Stalder – had a pleasant duty to report on the preparation of the VETNET program and how it was put into practice. Once again we had clearly over 100 proposals and despite some withdrawals we remained among the biggest EERA networks. For the convenors the high number provided a challenge – not to end up with four parallel sessions in the same time slot. They managed it – although packing sometimes four presentations into one session. But this seemed to work fine. Also, when distributing the session chair duties, they took a new approach – in each session the last presenter was appointed as the chair. In this way the chairing duties were distributed more widely – not only to the board members. And in this way also the last presenters got their fair share of the time. Finally, the organisation of the VETNET dinner – with a record participation – was praised widely.

ECER VETNET Proceedings 2018

One of the remarkable achievements of the convenors was that they managed to produce proper proceedings – as an online version and as a book that is printed on demand:

Nägele, C., & Stalder, B. E. (Eds.) (2018). Trends in vocational education and training research. Proceedings of the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER), Vocational Education and Training Network (VETNET).https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1319718

The VETNET pilot with ePosters

This year VETNET had a specific pilot activity with ePosters powered by the Learning Toolbox (LTB). Together with Christof Nägele I initiated firstly an EERA event for presenting this approach and then an EERA-funded Network project that enabled us to organise an interactive poster session with six authors who had prepared their ePosters (see my first post of this series). In the VETNET assembly I was pleased to report that this pilot activity had been a successful one. The sessions had good numbers of participants, the technology worked well and the mini-poster wall enabled further discussions after the sessions. And the EERA showcase and the instruction page are available for further use.

IJRVET – our journal is getting stronger

Michael Gessler, the editor-in-chief of the IJRVET (International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training) reported on the development of journal, Now that the IJRVET  has already reached its fifth volume, we can be happy that it has taken its place as a major journal in our field. during the last year we were happy that Cinterfor – the ILO unit for promoting training in Central and South America – started supporting the IJRVET.  Also, we were pleased to have the journal articles as the IJRVET Yearbook – printed on demand.

Crossing Boundaries in VET – the Spring 2019 Conference in Valencia

Last year we reached an agreement on scheduling two other conferences so that they are not clashing with each other or with the ECER. According to this agreement the “Crossing Boundaries …” conference and the Stockholm International VET Conference will be organised every two years. Thus, the next “Crossing Boundaries …” conference will be organised in May 2019 in Valencia (and the next Stockholm conference in May 2020). The call for papers for the Valencia conference was closed already at the end of May this year. On behalf of the organisers Fernando Marhuenda gave an interim report on the preparation. They were happy about the good number of proposals. Yet, as a consequence, the selection process had taken more time. However, the results will be communicated by the end of September. Here also the organisers are preparing the proceedings to be distributed before/at the event.

The European Skills Week

From the year 2016 on the VETNET network has been supporting the European Commission in organising research-related events in the context of the European Skills Week. In addition to a research work there has been a competition to award distinguished European researchers and successful European projects. This tradition will be continued and the information on the forthcoming event in Vienna will be published soon.

Celebrating the new VETNET Network Honorary Member Johanna Lasonen

Last year the VETNET general assembly had nominated Johanna Lasonen for VETNET Honorary Membership. In April this year the EERA Council confirmed her status and published this on the EERA website. Now the VETNET network was in the position to celebrate her. In his laudatio speech Michael Gessler paid attention to the long career of Johanna as an active member – starting from the founding process and including over 20 years service as a reviewer. Moreover, Michael listed all the new things that Johanna brought into the conference culture of VETNET when she was the first ‘local’ program chair in 1999 – the VETNET opening session with keynote speakers, the VETNET proceedings (published by the conference), the VETNET dinner (sponsored by Lahti Polytechnic) and the VETNET study visits to vocational schools and enterprises. Also, Michael referred to Johanna’s role in supporting the IJRVET in many ways. And finally, Michael gave insights into Johanna’s long career in the International Vocational Education and Training Association (IVETA) as the European Vice-President, as the President Elect, as the President and as the Immediate Past President. These duties required sometimes bold actions and firm leadership, as the examples tha Michael mentioned made us aware.

Awarding-JL-1Awarding-JL-3

Johanna thanked the network and the EERA Council for the honour and paid tribute to other team players as board members and convenors with whom she had worked. With this celebration we were happy to take the course to the next ECER 2019 that will be hosted by Hamburg.

I think this is enough of the VETNET meeting and of the reporting on ECER 2018 altogether. This major conference was a good experience and now it is time to continue with the daily work.

More blogs to come …

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