This report is an information resource regarding digital competences of VET teachers, trainers, mentors, and it will be useful for VET policy and decision makers, VET school management, researchers, and particularly for VET teacher trainers. The long-term experience of Finns as developers of digital pedagogical education opens up a point of reference at which this network can continue to work on higher quality content and development of the training program. In the Dig4VET project, Oulu University of Applied Sciences, School of Professional Teacher Education had an excellent viewpoint to look at the recognised training needs and the training packages planned and implemented during the initiative. In the following chapter we will discuss our review results in relation to recent recommendations, research findings and teacher trainees’ experiences. At the same time, we aim to provide guidelines for the development of future training programs and open education resources, too.
Vocational Teacher Training and CPD Practices in Finland
Northernmost in Europe, the focus has been already over a decade on the nationwide development of VET teachers’ competences in digital operating environments using a variety of tools, producing and selecting digital material and becoming familiar with the operating practices of the digital settings (Kullaslahti et al., 2019). The Finnish government embarked on a reform of the entire VET in 2015, and the notable change in legislation came into force in January 2018. The main aims of the change were to adopt a new customer-oriented and demand-driven approach to educational provision and to meet the needs of the world of work (Kukkonen & Raudasoja, 2018; Ministry of Education and Culture, MINEDU, 2018; Rintala et al., 2018; Räisänen & Goman, 2017). The new model emphasising individual learning paths has transformed teachership, use of learning environments and resulted in more selfdirected learning (Rintala et al., 2018). In Finland, the reform in VET has led the way towards the evident change in all educational sectors (Korhonen et al., 2020).
Finnish VET teachers are required to hold an appropriate degree from a university or university of applied sciences with at least three years of work experience in a field that is relevant to the position and the teachers’ pedagogical studies. Vocational teacher training is organised by five Schools of Professional Teacher Education located in different parts of the country. Additionally, training is provided in Swedish. Vocational teacher training is intended for applicants who work or intend to work as a teacher at Universities of Applied Sciences and institutions of vocational education. The education offers a general pedagogical qualification for teaching at all educational levels (see Studyinfo.fi).
The aim of vocational teacher programmes is to provide the students with
- the knowledge and skills needed in the guidance of the learning process of individual students
- the competences to advance in their own teaching area, taking into account the development of working life and professions.
The studies include the basics of educational sciences, vocational pedagogy, and a teaching practice, among other optional course offerings. The 60 ECTS credits for a teacher’s qualification provide a strong foundation for working in competence-based vocational education and emphasise the importance of up-to-date digital pedagogical competence. However, the skills and knowledge acquired during the professional teacher training are insufficient for a vocational teacher’s entire career (Brauer et al., 2018). Participation in in-service training is recommended but not mandatory and, for example, a national register of individual competence is not kept. The great autonomy of Finnish teachers reflects a belief in their responsibility to enhance their own competences, yet teachers rarely have a personal development plan (Minedu, 2016).
In vocational teacher education, identification and recognition of competences is of primary importance, a reflective process that supports the emergence of professional identity while helping to deepen already-acquired competences (Kolkka & Karjalainen, 2013). The competence-based approach relates to vocational teacher training and CPD not only through validation of competences, but also through evolving pedagogical choices, digital learning solutions and evaluation processes. These features help students to perceive the competence-based approach as a concept and practice grounded in personal experience (Brauer, 2019). Today, VET teacher’s knowledge and experience of competence-based approach is one of the key competences in training future professionals (Saari et al., 2021).
Competence-Based Approach as the Development Principle
After the reform of Finland’s vocational education and training sector, there arose an urgent need to focus on vocational teachers’ new competences. Two Finnish Schools of Professional Teacher Education sought to restructure the CPD to design competence-based professional development programmes that would support VET teachers in building digital pedagogical skills and knowledge. As a result, novel approaches such as digital open badges and badge-driven learning were introduced (Brauer, 2019; Korhonen et al., 2020).
Digital open badges offer novel possibilities in identifying and recognising digital pedagogical competences independent of how they were acquired (Brauer, 2019). Open badges represent a type of microcredentials that offers to inform and improve learning outcomes, but also to scaffold and assess learning. Further, badges permit efficient use of learning analytics and inspiring gamification that supports consistent competence development as a continuum (Brauer, 2020). Moreover, the pedagogical design encourages participants to apply acquired skills and knowledge immediately in practice (Brauer et al., 2018). In teacher training, this means that for every badge earned, a VET teacher has developed and implemented one new learning solution in their work in practice. The numbers speak for themselves. More than 30,000 competence-based badges have been awarded to Finnish VET teachers in the “Learning Online” program. This means that more than 30,000 times a teacher has developed their learning material, teaching, guidance or even group interactions in practice. The original goal of the “Learning Online” project was to establish a competence-based professional development programme to inform and improve VET teachers’ digital pedagogical skills with some inspiring tools of gamification. The Learning Online concept was built during an OsaOppi-project funded by the Finnish National Agency for Education in 2014 and has been in development ever since. The Learning Online aims to support VET teachers in applying new technologies and strategies to teaching and learning in online, hybrid and face-to-face learning environments (Brauer et al., 2017). The program exceeded all intended learning outcomes already in the first year of implementation both in terms of quantity and quality. In 2022, the educational setting is updated to compliment all aspects of DigCompEdu and nationally recognised digital pedagogical professional needs.
All key success factors of Learning Online revolve around the concept of competence and competence-based approach in VET practices. In practice, digital open badges offer to inform the following (Brauer, 2019, p. 71–72):
- identification of individual competences needed in working life,
- independent self-evaluation of existing competences,
- choice to customise studies, alternative, flexible study options to follow.
The criteria-based badge constellation provides a visual representation of layered badges, metabadges and the final badges of mastery (Brauer et al., 2017). The design of the constellation and families of connected badges relates to the intended learning outcomes defined in the curricula or course plan, aiming to encourage desirable behaviours by prompting and rewarding the learner for work towards required competences (Brauer et al., 2018; Brauer et al., 2017; Gamrat et al., 2016; Reid et al., 2015). Stacked and layered badges provide practical visual aids to learners (Brauer, Korhonen, & Siklander, 2019; Smith, 2015) seeking to self-evaluate existing competences and plan studies ahead; the clear and consistent badge criteria tie the learner’s guidebook together, suggesting how to proceed towards intended learning outcomes (Brauer, Korhonen, & Siklander, 2019). This pragmatic approach has scientifically proven to motivate VET teachers in their CPD. However, seamless badge design is not enough to achieve excellent learning outcomes, also flexible study options and just-in time scaffolding is on demand. In general, digital open badge-driven learning seems to enhance vocational teachers’ perceptions of the competence-based approach in practice (Brauer, 2019).
Easy Access Digital Tools for Learning and Open Recognition
During the current virus outbreak (2020–2021), most schools were required to transform learning in an online or distance regime. Some of the settings were implemented partially online, others to full extent. For example, theoretical subjects were provided online, and practical tasks were organised at the school face to face. Another option was to schedule schoolwork periodically eg., classes worked at school premises on rotation to reduce the number of people in contact. Pre-COVID-19 pandemic studies (e.g., Waheed et al., 2015) already found that autonomous and easy accessibility in online learning environments intrinsically motivates CPD on an individual level. How VET schools, VET teachers and mentors could and should prepare to meet changing situations?
The Dig4VET project sought to broaden understanding of the potential of digital tools in learning, teaching, assessment, validation. The experiences of those who participated in the piloting of the training program and international joint staff training event, reflect a variety of perceptions of training needs in the field of VET. Next, we intend to summarise these experiences to provide an overview of digital tools, education technologies and apps relevant and useful for VET and WBL settings. However, we do not propose individual applications or tools to promote digitalisation in teaching and learning but seek to describe pedagogically sustainable guidelines for future development work.
Given the diversity of VET, the different skills to achieve, the pedagogical models to be applied and, of course, the different teachers and learners, it is obvious that there is a wide range of digital tools to benefit from. The digital pedagogical training should therefore provide a wide range of different digital tools that could be used in both teachers’ pre-service and in-service training. The challenge is that learning how to use digital tools takes a lot of time, and even more so, to understand which pedagogical model is the most appropriate to apply. The teacher training offered must therefore provide clear pedagogical models that allow even beginners to apply these tools in his or her own teaching in the appropriate way. If the tools are used; for instance, only to test the studied data, the results do not describe a student’s competence to full extent. A limited number of digital tools, for example, allow reflection and reasoning, which are emphasised by the majority of competence-based pedagogical approaches. Moreover, the concepts related to advancement in digital technologies might seem difficult for “non-digital natives”, and the language itself might build a barrier as the tools are usually in English, which requires the user to have good language skills. Easy access digital tools should be prioritised (e.g., sign in by using Google-account), however attention must be paid to issues related to data security and, for example, The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is also noteworthy to consider options for the Open Educational Resources (OER), and licensing that allows educational access (e.g., Creative Commons). Moreover, it is crucial to respect the accessibility regulation (European accessibility act).
International joint staff training events of Erasmus+ projects offer an interesting opportunity to see what kind of digital tools are used in VET in different countries and how different teachers’ experiences on digital pedagogical practices are. Given the national characteristics of pre-service teacher education, country-by -country comparisons are challenging to make. However, the need for systematic in-service training is evident. The discussions during the joint staff training emphasised that the manner and formats of in-service training should be based on up-to-date pedagogy that is also applicable in VET. Also, in-service teachers found it satisfactory to achieve something concrete by doing it by themselves and found it helpful to experiment new tools between meetings and then present that experience, the lessons learned, next time. Teachers also appreciate optimal, just-in-time guidance that can be adjusted according to entry level and language skills. In international training, it can sometimes be challenging to follow the performances of others due to the different levels of English language skills of the participants. For that reason too, experimenting and doing it yourself is especially important. The Dig4VET staff training events revealed that the competence-based approach was not yet familiar to all participants. Competence-based approach as a development principle for pedagogical activities realised in the training as the Dig4VET digital open badge was introduced. In other countries, this emergent concept of open recognition and micro-credentialing was still relatively unknown. However, the model could benefit digital pedagogical training as it guides the demonstration of competence in practice. In addition, clear structures and processes lead to clear and unambiguous linguistic expression when talking about competence objectives, assessment, and evidence of competence.
In digital open badge-driven learning, essential preconditions for learning include also summarising the process, facilitating tasks and supporting the use of learning materials (Salmon, 2011). This kind of home base with easy access learning materials and instructions for the badge application process 24/7 online (Waheed et al., 2015) could support in-service instructors to a great extent. Educational settings should organise learning materials themed according to digital badge management in order to supplement instructional badge criterion (Brauer, 2019). It should be noted that the need for learning materials grows as the studies progress towards more challenging themes and applications. Learning materials are expected to be thorough and provide all required information to apply the pedagogical model and technology related to the topic (Brauer et al., 2017). Advanced search options are appreciated because individual study paths are unlikely to proceed gradually or follow the planned pattern (Brauer, Korhonen & Siklander, 2019). In-service teachers should feel capable, comfortable, and confident using resources independently (Salmon, 2011).
Digital Open Badges as Evidence of Development Actions
VET teachers and WBL tutors should perceive the competence-based approach as a concept and practice grounded in personal experience (Brauer, 2019). The process of competence-based assessment involves ongoing procedures for identifying and recognising skills and knowledge based on standardised criteria for demonstrating required evidence (Brauer, 2019). Here, criteria should be understood as a distinct tool, with attributes and rules for judgement (Sadler, 2005). From the practical point of view, Kilja (2018) emphasises the necessity for learners to demonstrate the required competences in their working lives. The detailed competence descriptions are needed at different stages of competence demonstration to inform and improve individual performance.
The following questions offer to guide planning the demonstration of competence in digital open badge-driven learning (Brauer, 2019):
- How to demonstrate competence in practice?
- How to document the assessment process?
- How to document the achievement, how to formulate the evidence of competence?
In badge-driven learning (Brauer, 2019) scaffolding is not seen as a stage but an ongoing process that includes peer related activities, such as socialisation within a study group on social media. The badge constellation of competences and recognised stages of the learning process provide different viewpoints and tools for scaffolding. For example, they assure easy access to learning materials, allow self-evaluation of achieved and desirable competences based on the criterion, and promote relevant remediation in accordance with instructional badging. These features allow learners to update their development plan and affect study progress throughout the process. Easy access online environments enhance students’ confidence and sense of personal control of studies (Salmon et al., 2010) and this situation motivates them to return for additional badge applications (Brauer, 2019). Meanwhile, digital open badges advocate competence-based assessment and shared expertise in digital environments (Brauer et al., 2018).
Digital open badges offer to advance transparent learning processes, equal and egalitarian assessment, and relevant learning (Brauer, Korhonen, & Siklander, 2019). Public recognition of different competences encourages people to use their knowledge and skills, to see new opportunities and to grow as experts (Halttunen et al., 2014). Also, employers insist on having a clearer understanding of an applicant’s abilities before extending an offer of employment (Gauthier, 2020). The option to promote personal expertise within the work community is the most significant reason for publishing a badge. The value of publicly-shared badges resides in the fact that both the badge earners and their peers can see each other’s skill levels in regard to requisite skills set (Abramovich, 2016). Public badges allow peers to recognise others’ reputations (Deterding et al., 2011); through badges for instance, people can see who in the community would be able to help with a difficult challenge. The badges seem to promote a sense of community and enhance the experience of inclusion, equality and meaning (Mäki et al., 2015).
Digital Pedagogical Competence — Resilience for the Entire Learning Community
A recent report by the UNESCO-UNEVOC (2022) emphasises that “TVET teaching staff have experienced heavier workloads and higher teaching/training costs, often with little employer support, reducing their motivation to develop their knowledge, skills and competencies to deliver high-quality technology-enhanced distance learning” (p. 31). This transformation emphasises the significance of digital pedagogical competence strengthening the resilience and pedagogical well-being of the entire work community.
UNESCO-UNEVOC trends mapping study points out how rushed transitions to remote working arrangements have led to heavier workloads for VET teachers/trainers. During school closures, teaching staff have been expected to “learn about and apply new tools and technologies to deliver VET, prepare lessons and learning materials in new formats, adapt new teaching methodologies, learn how to manage virtual workspaces and classes, and field student enquiries at all hours, while executing their regular teaching and assessment tasks” (International Labour Organization, ILO, 2020, p. 2; ILO et al., 2021).
In order to increase digital literacy of all citizens, there is a need for long-term development of teachers’ digital pedagogical competence that requires strong cooperation between different stakeholders, and strong guidelines for a common European, sustainable VET. The advancement of intelligent technologies should be taken into account in the continuing professional development of competences (Ruhalahti & Kenttä, 2017). Solid research-based foundation is required for high-level pedagogical development, but the challenges on teacher’s daily practices still might occur – as said – practical issues. UNESCO-World Bank survey, for instance, suggests that in some instances the extra costs of work-from-home arrangements amid school have reduced teachers’/trainers’ motivation to undergo training and to deliver high-quality distance learning (ILO et al., 2021). Such costs have been borne mainly by teachers/trainers, rather than by educational providers (ILO et al., 2021).
The COVID-19 crisis forced VET providers to close their premises and shift to distance learning in an extremely tight schedule. In Finland, VET providers were successful in implementing this transition and reported that staff and students adopted the increased use of digital and online learning solutions very quickly (Finnish Association for the Development of Vocational Education and Training, AMKE, 2020). In general, the transition to distance learning was easier for some VET providers than others depending on how much they used digital solutions prior to COVID-19 pandemic. A recent report of Finnish practices by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO (2021) describes the VET providers actions to help teachers and staff in this difficult situation.
The following activities were carried out:
- Setting up additional remote teaching and IT support services for teachers and staff.
- Providing training for staff and students in using digital communication and learning tools (such as Teams).
- Efficient and constant communication about the crisis and new learning arrangements with staff and students.
Now that more than two years have passed since the COVID-19 crisis, VET providers have shown their resilience. Finnish teachers have been able to adapt to the situation and perform extremely well considering the circumstances. However, the successful implementation of distance learning seems to have taken a toll on teachers. More time spent on planning, adopting new digital tools, increased amount of written individual feedback for each student, and continuous communication have all increased the teachers’ workload: 54 % of TVET teachers have reported a significant increase, and 33 % a slight increase in their workload (Finnish Education Evaluation Centre, 2020). These results of Finnish VET teachers are inline with the latest findings of UNESCO-UNEVOC (2022). Still, more complex skills and knowledge are required for the sustainable development of vocational education and training. In the next, final chapter, we seek to build recommendations about awareness-raising needs and potential in digital pedagogical development for VET based on our experiments in the Dig4VET project and in general.
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