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

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.
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 and then cover some other themes.

German top politician visits Bau-ABC Rostrup – Great praise for the training of apprentices

Earlier this week Ministerpräsident Stephan Weil (prime minister of the Federal State of Lower Saxony) made a field visit to the North-German training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup. As the readers of this blog know, Bau-ABC played a vital role in our EU-funded project Learning Layers (2012-2016) as the main application partner of the Construction pilot of the said project. During the project researchers, technical partners and trainers of Bau-ABC worked together to develop an integrative toolset – the Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support vocational and workplace-based learning.
Now, some time after the end of the project, it was interesting to see, how the prime minister perceived the training and learning that was presented to him. Let us start with prime minister Weil’s comment on his Facebook page and then give more information on the visit.

Prime minister Weil on the training and learning at Bau-ABC Rostrup

On his Facebook page prime minister Weil published the following, highly inspired update (see below). And another picture shows that he was involved in hands-on training during the field visit (see below).

Weil Facebook 2019-08-28 Hands-on-training 2019-08-28

The comment that prime minister Weil made in his Facebook-update above was the following (translated into English by me):

“Today I have visited the training centre Bau-ABC Rostrup and I can only say the following: They have a strong case – I have not seen anything similar before. They are training young people from all over Germany in two dozen training workshops and in very practical way to master 22 different construction trades, Digitization is solidly integrated in all curricula. And on top oft hat they have a broad-based provision of continuing training schemes. This is really impressive.”

And as we can see from the pictures, he took time to inform himself by trainers, apprentices and managers. And he also egaged himself in discussions and in hands-on training.

Reporting on the field visit in a journal article

The field visit was covered by the article of Christian Qapp “Ein Ministerpräsident als Azubi” published in NWZ Online. The article made the point that the prime minister took the role of apprentice (guided by an experienced apprentice) on the drilling grounds. And at different training sites the apprentices had a major role in presenting the training in their trades.

From the perspective of promoting digital competences in vocational education and training (VET) the article makes an interesting point (translated into English by me):

“The apprentices in carpentry, Vanessa Hermes, and in pipeline-building, Linus Köneking, explained the Learning Toolbox. The App for Smartphones and Tablet-PCs was developed in collaboration with Bau-ABC. Now it is being used there from the very first day of apprentice training on. On the one hand it contains practical information for apprentices on travel arrangements, Accommodation and on the daily menu of the canteen. But equally it presents learning tasks with three-dimensional models, digital measurements and with creating lists of necessary construction materials. With all this the apprentices can deal with by taking the gadget from their pocket. And, moreover, they themselves can  document their own work with the help of the app.”

Reflective commentary

For us, who had been involved in the project work that led to the development of the Learning Toolbox, it is very rewarding to hear such comments from a top politician and to read such news reports. They deliver to us the message that the use of the digital toolset Learning Toolbox has become lived practice. Moreover, it is clear that the apprentices are in the best position to tell, how thwy can benefit from using it. We are happy to follow the progress of Bau-ABC Rostrup and others who are working with the Learning Toolbox. It is very inspiring to learn more from the users.

Preparing for forthcoming TACCLE project meetings

In my previous post I wrote about preparing for the forthcoming ECER 2019 (beginning of September in Hamburg). For a conference of educational researchers one needs to work with research papers and related presentations – that is obvious. However, later in the Autumn I will have two TACCLE project meetings for which I have had to prepare from another perspective. The two parallel TACCLE projects are working to promote digital competences of practitioners.
The TACCLE-VET project focuses directly on teachers and trainers in the field of vocational education and training (VET). The TACCLE-CPD project shapes models for continuing professional development (CPD) in different educational sectors (general education, adult education, VET). I have been working only in the latter project – but as responsible for the sector of VET. Now, at this point, it is high time to share experiences between the two projects and to present some interim results for the neighbouring project.

To be sure, I have worked a lot and produced a lot. That all has contributed to the research paper, powerpoint presentation and ePoster (as a wider digital resource). BUT now it is necessary to prepare materials that support continuing professional development of practitioners – teachers and trainersand related planning in their organisations. Indeed,  I have written of  challenges with digital learning culture and on different innovation paths – that all gives food for thought. But now it is not just about delivering text and presenting it in attractive packages. What is also needed, is the inspiration and encouragement to take new challenges and try something hitherto unknown. And it is this spirit that I hope that we can grasp from our predecessor projects – the earlier TACCLE projects and the Learning Layers – and their training activities. Below I want to illustrate this with two videos.

Training in TACCLE3 project – Brussels meets Dillingen

The video “Unplugged coding in Dillingen” gives an impression, how three TACCLE trainers engaged the participants during their training visit. With such an approach the working with digital tools is brought into lived practice. (Many thanks to Angela Gerrard for sharing this video! And our deepest respects to Jenny Hughes who played an important role in

this event as well!)

Putting digital competences into practice after Multimedia training – the Carpenters’ blog takes off

The other video demonstrates, how a full-time vocational trainer (working in a training centre of construction sector) made rapid use of his newly acquired digital competences. In a couple of weeks after the training session he had developed a remarkable resource base powered by a WordPress blog. In the Learning Layers project this was a major step forward in developing digital learning culture.

 

In both videos we can sense the joy of learning and of becoming owner of one’s new competences. In the Learning Layers project this interim phase was crucial to push the co-design process further – to the phase in which the Learning Toolbox (LTB) became a toolset for trainers and learners.

It is this creative spirit that we want to promote with our projects. Let us see what we can achieve in the coming time.

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

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.

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part Three: Examining innovation paths in the field of vocational education and training

With my two previous blog entries I started a series of posts with which I have linked my work in our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project (with focus on vocational education and training (VET))  to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education). As a starting point I presented  the Four-Step Model of the TACCLE4-CPD project that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest. I found this model very helpful for finding and developing strategies to promote digital competences.  In my second post I discussed, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET.
In this post I referred to different strategic options for promoting digital competences in the context of vocational learning arrangements. In this post I will illustrate them in the light of my interviews. Below I will firstly recapitulate my starting point and then discuss four parallel innovation paths.

Strategic options for promoting digital competences in vocational learning arrangements

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there are different options for linking the introduction of digital tools (and enhancement of digital competences) to the development of vocational learning arrangements. Below these options will be discussed as parallel innovation paths:

1) In some cases the main thrust of innovation is the shaping of a new curricular framework for a new occupation or occupational field. In such contexts the introduction of digital tools and web resources is adjusted to the curriculum processes.

2) In other cases the main thrust of innovation is to introduce integrative toolsets that provide tools for managing training and learning processes and provide access to web resources. In such contexts the use of the tools supports the curriculum implementation.

3) In some cases innovation projects are launched to shape off-the-job learning arrangements to support work process -oriented learning arrangements at workplaces that do not provide opportunities for learning alongside working. In such contexts the main thrust of innovation is to shape a simulated or virtual learning arrangement that makes the real work process accessible for learning.

4) In some cases the starting point of the innovation is the enrichment of ‘ordinary’ vocational learning arrangements by introducing digital tools and web resources to support action-oriented learning. In such cases the innovations can be limited to particular occupational fields or they can be promoted across different domains.

Illustrations of different innovation paths

Below I will present specific projects or innovative approaches that can be considered as exemplary cases for particular innovation paths. All these cases have been described in my overviews on parallel projects or in my recent interview reports (see also my earlier blogs).

  1. The “Kompetenzwerkstatt” path: The Kompetenzwerkstatt project tradition grew from vocational curriculum development projects in which the project team mobilised vocational teachers and trainers to analyse their occupational field and to shape curriculum structures. Later on, the project tradition was enriched with digital tools for managing learning situations, checking prior competences and presenting learning achievements. In the current phase the Kompetenzwerkstatt approach is being implemented in an occupational field that is developing holistic curriculum structures for initial and continuing training (the occupations for sanitary, heating and air-conditioning technologies).
  2. The “Learning Toolbox” path: The Learning Toolbox (LTB) was developed as the main product of the EU-funded innovation project “Learning Layers” and its Construction pilot. After a complex iterative process the partners involved in the Construction pilot developed an integrative toolset to support vocational and work process -oriented learning. From the trainers’ and apprentices’ point of view it was essential that the toolset supported a holistic view on working and learning tasks and a culture of self-organised learning.
  3. The “Brofessio” path: The Brofessio project was launched to support work process -oriented learning processes in such industries in which it is not possible to provide learning opportunities alongside working. In particular this is the case with sealed processes with major time constraints. For such industries the Brofessio project developed the concept of agile learning – based on SCRUM project management techniques, inquiry-based learning strategies and interactive learning culture. Thus, the learning arrangements were organised as a series of learning sprints with key questions and with responsible coaches. In such an approach the use of digital tools and web resources is dependent on the policies of the partner enterprise.
  4. The Smart OER-users’ paths: The fourth type doesn’t refer to a major project but instead to parallel initiatives of responsible teachers and trainers.  The key point is to integrate the use of domain-specific Open Educational Resources into vocational learning arrangements. Due to the pattern variance it is more appropriate to to refer to paths (in plural) rather than to a single path. Also, it is worthwhile to highlight the creativity of the users in finding the appropriate learning resources (rather than celebrating the existing OER communities and their products).

I think this is enough of this topic. I am aware that I have only presented a rather vague outline and I have to do some further work with this theme. Yet, I believe that the above presented set of innovation paths is important for the efforts to develop continuing professional development for vocational teachers and trainers. In particular it is important when we try to get a deeper understanding on the role of digital tools and web resources in vocational learning contexts.

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part Two: Adapting the Four-Step Model for vocational education and training

With my previous blog entry I started a series of posts with which I try to link my work in our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project (with focus on vocational education and training (VET))  to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education). As a starting point I presented  the Four-Step Model of the TACCLE4-CPD project that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest (in which I couldn’t participate). I found this model very helpful for finding and developing strategies to promote digital competences.
However, my critical point was that it focused primarily on schools, adult education providers and (general) educational authorities. In this post I will discuss, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET. Below I will follow the steps and make some comments from the perspective of VET.

The starting point: The education and training contexts in the field of VET

As I have mentioned, the Four-Step Model has been developed to support school managers, adult education providers and educational authories – to promote the digital competences of teachers. When shifting the emphasis to the field of VET, it is essential to take into account education and training partnerships between vocational schools, enterprises and intermediate training centres. In such contexts the schools are contributing to the enhancement of digital competences together with the other partners. Moreover, the introduction of digital tools for learning is part of the enhancement of digital competences in the occupational domain.

Identifying policies: educational, occupational and wider societal perspectives

When discussing with my interviewees in the field of VET I have come to the conclusion that there are multiple policies that have an impact on promoting digital competences in the field of VET. In this context it is worthwhile to mention government policies at the national (federal), regional (federal state), sub-regional and municipal level. In addition there are public innovation policies and sectoral stakeholder -led initiatives as well as local partnership-oriented initiatives. From this perspective it is appropriate to look at the VET-specific policy constellations that are being followed.

Identifying strategic initiatives and shaping action plans

In addition to the above-mentioned diversity, it is worthwhile to consider, what kinds of strategic initiatives are available for enhancing digital competences in the field of VET. From the perspective of curriculum design/development it is possible to specify the following options:

  • Introduction of vocational curricula to new occupational domains or reshaping the existing training with a new (whole curriculum) approach;
  • Enrichment of existing vocational learning arrangements with integrative digital toolsets;
  • Enrichment of particular vocational learning arrangements with domain-specific digital tools and web resources;
  • Incorporation of simulated learning opportunities into workplace contexts that do not provide opportunities for on-the job training.

In the light of the above, the educational actors can have very different starting points and strategic options.

The role of a “Routemap” and a “TACCLE handbook” in the field of VET

Considering the above presented comments, it is appropriate to take a closer look at results of the interviews with teachers and trainers and with the working perspectives that they have outlined. Once this has been completed, it is possible to discuss, how these products can be adapted to the field of VET. In my next blog post I will take a first step towards interpreting the findings from my interviews in terms of ‘innovation paths’

Finding strategies to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers – Part One: The Four-Step Model of TACCLE4-CPD

In my recent posts I have reported of my fieldwork for our EU-funded TACCLE4-CPD project. The aim of this project is to develop training models and pedagogic approaches to promote digital competences of teachers and trainers in different educational sectors. In my blog posts I have mainly emphasised the specific characteristics of my work that focuses on the field of vocational education and training (VET). With this series of posts I will try to link my work to the general framework of the project and to the work of other partners in other educational sectors (general education, adult education) and with school-based learning.
The starting point is provided by the Four-Step Model that was developed in the recent project meeting in Bucharest (in which I couldn’t participate). In this first post I will present the outline of the model (as it was explained to me afterwards) and how it can be applied in schools and adult education providers. In the subsequent blogs I will discuss, how the model can be adapted to the field of VET and to my recent findings in the fieldwork.

The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies to promote digital competences

The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies was shaped in the project meeting in Bucharest, when the TACCLE4-CPD partners had workshops with interested schools. When analysing the experiences of the workshops the partners came up with the model that is visualised below.

Four-Step Model of TACCLE4-CPD

Figure 1: The Four-Step Model for finding/developing strategies to promote digital competences in educational contexts (credit to Graham Attwell and Angela Gerrard)

As we see, the left hand side presents the process steps with key questions and related options, how to proceed. In the middle we see the reference materials that can be used in the process. And on the right hand side we see the underlying questions that clarify, where the questions and answers lead us.

My interpretation of the four-step model (as it stands now)

As I read this model, it speaks out to school managers, educational authorities and curriculum developers. They are challenged to consider, whether their organisation(s) is/are following a policy for promoting digital competences. In this respect they are advised to inform themselves of the European DigCompOrg frameworks (prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Union). In the next phase they are challenged to consider their strategic approach in terms of action plans and needs analyses. Here they are advised to have a closer look at the DigComgEdu framework (also by JRC) for specifying their strategic orientation. Then, in the next phases the model invites to discuss, how continuing professional development (CPD) can be organised and delivered. Here the model refers to  earlier TACCLE resources (Routemap) and to the new Handbook that is being prepared for the TACCLE4-CPD.

As I see it, this model suits very well school-based educational contexts. However, when we discuss the field of VET, we are dealing with a more complex policy environment and institutional/organisational landscape. Moreover, we are dealing with diversity of learning venues (schools, enterprises, intermediate training centres) and with domain-specific characteristics (different occupational fields, different production and service contexts). Therefore, it is appropriate to discuss the Four-Step Model in the light of these challenges. That is the task for my next blog post in this series.

Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part Three: Insights into special areas of learning

With my previous post I started a series to report on interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. The project seeks to develop  continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers – with focus on enhancing digital competences. As I have mentioned, my work concentrates on the field of vocational education and training (VET). In my two previous posts I have summarised some of the pedagogic points raised by the trainers and their general views on the use of Learning Toolbox (LTB) as support for apprentice training.

With this third post I want to draw attention to the role of LTB as support for two special areas of learning. Here I am reporting directly from an interview with an expert partner in health and safety and in supporting language learning on foreign apprentices. Here it is worthwhile to note that in both areas the use of LTB was started at the end of Learning Layers (LL) project and the trainers of Bau-ABC have been developing their own solutions.

Using Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support training in health and safety

Concerning the area of health and safety, trainers from different trades worked as an informal working group. This effort supported the creation of a coherent LTB stack and helped the trainers to prepare their domain-specific instructions in a coherent way. Now, that the trainers and apprentices in all trades are using LTB, it makes the health and safety material present in a new way – it is no longer info sheets in a folder. The LTB can be accessed by trainers and by apprentices at any time. This has helped to make the training in health and safety more creative and situation-adjusted – as lived practice.

Using Learning Toolbox (LTB) to support foreign apprentices’ language learning

The LTB-stack to support Spanish apprentices in learning occupational vocabulary has been created together with trainers and an external language teacher. It has been enriched with quiz tasks that have made the learning more exciting. Also, this stack has included health and safety terminology. The stack has been helpful in preparing the apprentices for their tests and it will be developed and updated regularly. The usability has been greatly enhanced by the fact that Spanish is provided by LTB as an optional language.

I think this is enough of these examples. Altogether these interviews have given me a good feeling that the main result of our joint LL project – the Learning Toolbox – has been used actively. Moreover, it has become clear that the LTB has not been whatever digital tool among others. Instead, in the context of vocational learning it has proven to be a strategic toolset to promote digital competences and to enhance vocational learning. But we need to work further with these themes.

Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part Two: General views on the use of Learning Toolbox

With my previous post I started a series to report on interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. The project seeks to develop  continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers – with focus on enhancing digital competences. As I have mentioned, my work concentrates on the field of vocational education and training (VET).  I  still have some interviews on my list. Yet, it has been helpful to write down some points raised by full-time trainers of the training centre Bau-ABC. In this second post I will draw attention to the use of the digital toolset that we have co-developed in the Learning Layers project. I will start with the transition from the common project work to using the main product after the project.

Getting clarity on terms of service and permissions to use the toolset

The Learning Layers (LL) project had been a wide trans-national research and development (R&D) project in which many research partners, technical partners and application partners had been involved. During the long funding period they had co-designed, co-developed and pilot tested digital tools to support learning in the context of work. The digital toolset Learning Toolbox (LTB) was the main product that was developed in the Construction pilot of the LL project. After the project the LTB-developer team launched a start-up company (StackServices) to develop the LTB further and to support user organisations. This provided the basis for further use of the toolset after the project.

After the funding period the service provider has developed a differentiated set of contracts and permissions to regulate the use of the LTB software, the use of the LTB platform and the use of the services of the LTB-developers.

Shaping common structures for trade-specific LTB-stacks and overarching themes

In the LL project the LTB was shaped as a digital toolset that provides stacks (consisting of different kinds of tiles) for the users. During project the trainers who participated in the pilot testing developed their own stacks for their own apprentices and based on their own pedagogic priorities. After the project the trainers have developed a common structure for trade-specific stacks and for overarching themes. Also, they have coordinated the filing of digital worksheets and of photos. Thus, they have common patterns to work with the LTB.

Using LTB to enhance vocational (work process -oriented) learning

In the LL project the use of LTB was adjusted to the apprentices’ learning projects (that were shaped from the perspective of holistic look at planning, task preparation, task implementation and assessment). The learners were guided to self-organised (individual or team-based) learning. Whilst the LTB was at that time used mainly as trainers’ tool to provide guidance and instructions, it is now increasingly used as apprentices’ tool to report on their projects. Moreover, the use of specific Apps like GoConqr quiz apps has considerably enriched the learning process.

In particular LTB has served well as a central channel to essential web resources, such as the norms or regulations (as summaries) that need to be taken into account in construction work and to users’ guides for machinery and vehicles (also as summaries).

Using LTB from the perspective of apprentices

In all the interviews I got the picture that the apprentices have received well the use of LTB – once they have got the login sorted out and created their own account. The WLAN functions better and there are tablet PCs available at the training workshops. Via LTB the apprentices get advance information on the forthcoming training projects with which they will work during the next presence period in the training centre. When they are working with the projects the LTB serves as a documentary toolset for recording the interim results and final results. Moreover, the apprentices can check whether they are working correctly and eventually ask for advice (with reference to their photos etc.). And if something is not quite right, they can take the necessary measures and update their documentation. However, the final reporting with the apprentices’ portfolio reports has not yet been digitized – that is depending of training regulations (not  a matter for local decisions).

I guess this is enough of the general picture on using Learning Toolbox as support for training. In my next blog I will discuss the relevance of Learning Toolbox for two overarching learning areas – training and learning in ‘health and safety’ and support for learning German as foreign language (with focus on domain-specific vocabulary in construction sector).

Trainers’ views on introducing digital tools to vocational learning – Part One: Trainers’ reflections on craftsmanship and pedagogy

During the last few weeks I have been doing interviews with vocational teachers, trainers and supporting researchers or consultants for the TACCLE4-CPD project. In this project we focus on continuing professional development (CPD) of teachers and trainers in order to promote their digital competences. Here, the main point of interest is to find appropriate uses of digital tools and web resources in order to enhance the quality of learning. My contribution to the project is to provide analyses from the field of vocational education and training (VET) and to develop models and materials for CPD measures in the field of VET.
I am still in the middle of the interviews but I find it appropriate summarise some first impressions from my discussions with trainers in the vocational training centre Bau-ABC with which we have worked together several years. In this first post I will take up some pedagogic points on the role of digital tools in craft trades and vocational learning.

Craftsmanship vs. use of digital tools

In many interviews the trainers pointed to the traditional idea of craftsmanship – to make something with your own hands. This refers to the sense of working with manual tools, to feel the materials with your own hands and to be able to assess the quality with your own senses. From this perspective older trainers and craftsmen have often reservations regarding the use of digital technologies as support for working and learning: “That’s how we have always done these things …”. Also, the introduction of stand-alone tools and apps has not always been successful. Moreover, may allegedly user-oriented apps or instruction videos are not of sufficient quality  to support learning. Furthermore, when introducing new technologies, there is often an anxiety that this brings more work to the trainers or craftsmen – instead of offloading them.

In the light of the above it is important to approach the trainers and craftsmen with solutions that work in practice and support working and learning in their trades.

Vocational learning vs. use of digital tools

Concerning the newer generations of apprentices, it is worthwhile to note that they have been less exposed to manual work, getting in touch with the materials and working with traditional tools. Moreover, their computing skills tend to concentrate on operating their smartphones. This provides a challenge for trainers and craftsmen – how to incorporate the use of digital tools into vocational learning without transforming the learning process into a virtual world

In the light of the above it is of vital importance that the use of digital tools shall serve the planning, preparation, implementation and assessment of work process -oriented learning. And the role of digital tools is to deepen the understanding of one’s learning – not as a short cut to answers provided by someone else. This is in particular the case when using digital tools with the cross-cutting theme ‘health and safety’ at work.

Thoughts on the future of craftsmanship

At the end of the interviews we shifted the emphasis from promoting digital competences in the current craft trades to a bigger picture of digital transformation through entire production, service and marketing networks. In the public debate we see often the dominance of negative scenarios that anticipate redundancy of craftsmanship and replacement of human workforce by robots, advanced automation and ‘internet of things’. From the perspective of their own trades the trainers made the following points that outline new possibilities for advanced craftsmanship:

  • Concerning carpenters, there will always be a need for advanced craftsmanship in the renovation of traditional buildings. Parallel to this, thanks to the new construction techniques, wooden constructs are being used as the structures of high buildings. Moreover, even when human workforce can be replaced by robots, this can be used as a basis for new complementarity in which craftsmen are engaged in creative tasks and robots in heavy tasks.
  • Concerning well-builders and tunnel-builders, there are new possibilities for using geo-data and advanced sensors and new techniques for drilling.  Yet the risk analyses, when starting drilling (horizontal or vertical) require communication between craftsmen on the site and authorized experts.
  •  Concerning welding, the use of welding robots is widespread in the industries. Yet, in outdoor construction work in which the results should sustain heavy strain and climate changes, it is essential to have a good understanding of materials, circumstances and differences in the quality of work. The sensors of welding robots may not be in the position to guarantee the required safety and sustainability.

I guess this is enough of these aspects. I still have some interviews listed for this week. If needed, I will update this post with further post. However, in my next post I would like to discuss, how the trainers commented the usability of the Learning Toolbox as a digital toolset to support work process -oriented learning.