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Friday, 27 April 2018 22:01

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SIM Europe's most recent european-wide expert survey reveals lack of reform towards establishing lifelong learning in several EU countries. According to the experts, in ten countries, no reforms have been undertaken aimed at improving financial or human resources for lifelong learning. Moreover, the researchers see a great need for reform in many countries regarding the strong influence of social origin on educational success. Six countries were not active in this regard: Croatia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and Spain.

"The lack of education reforms in many countries is cause for concern," said the chairman of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Aart De Geus. "Member States of the EU should do everything they can to promote the permeability of education systems and lifelong learning, otherwise" poverty careers "will continue to be inherited and social inequalities will be cemented."

This year, the EAEA Grundtvig Award will be given to a project successful in engaging new groups of learners.

One of the key challenges in adult education is often described as the “Matthew effect” – those who have will be given more and those who don’t will have less. This means that those who already have higher levels of education are more likely to participate in adult education. Partly this is due to the fact that they are more likely to be in the kinds of jobs where their employers offer training through their companies, but also because they more likely have positive experiences with learning and are therefore more likely to participate voluntarily.

discuss innoval 300x208InnoVal aims at identifying innovative and reliable assessment methods that can allow all learners to have a chance at validation, with a special focus on the needs of disadvantaged groups such as refugees and early school leavers.

According to the CEDEFOP 2014 Validation Inventory Report, EU countries still greatly diverge in terms of mechanisms in place. In order to ensure the validity and reliability of assessment procedures, and to avoid additional costs, many educational institutions prefer to use standardised tests. The use of alternative methods such as portfolios, declarative methods and simulations, is on the increase but remains limited. The partners believe that the use of standardised tests hinders learners’ take up in validation and represents one of the strongest obstacles to their development in Europe.

Indeed, validation systems are often targeting adults who have had a bad experience with formal education and formal assessment methods. This has led them to not completing their secondary education and to not participating in any further formal education. Yet, they have acquired many skills and competences in non-formal and informal learning environments that they would be willing to have validated if the assessment method did not bring them back to their bad past experience with formal education. InnoVal aims to foster a change in practices related to the assessment of non-formal and informal learning across Europe and across sectors. This is particularly urgent when we consider the need to up skill the adult population (PIAAC results) and to deal with the current refugee crisis.

discuss digital city

The European Digital City Index 2016 (EDCi) describes how well different European cities support digital entrepreneurship. It aims to provide a holistic and local view of what matters to digital startups. According to the developers (Nesta), it is the most complete description of what impacts digital entrepreneurs on a local level, and how different digital startup ecosystems compare within Europe.

The Index was produced by Nesta as part of the European Digital Forum, which exists to support digital entrepreneurship and digital startups across Europe. The European Digital Forum is run in collaboration with the European Commission's Startup Europe initiative. The project has been funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

For startups and scale-ups, it provides information about the strengths and weaknesses of local ecosystems, allowing them to plan accordingly and consider where they may need to devote more resources.

For policy makers aiming to encourage digital entrepreneurship in their own city, the Index helps to identify existing and promising hubs of activity, in order to learn from their practices. Additionally, it allows benchmarking of performance against other European hubs, and helps identify which policy areas to prioritise.
Comparison with other indices.

The new 2 years Erasmus+ project Walk & Talk promotes non-formal learning of Europeans 65+, along with physical activities taking place outside the classroom. While the seniors are walking, they will learn about the interrelation between physical activity and active and healthy aging. They might learn a new language, discuss local culture and history, traditions, use apps etc. Senior learners can meet outside the centre of their home towns, in nature, or within their own surrounding or neighbourhood, which will be easier for the seniors living in big cities.

Nowadays, retirement can be seen as an increasingly active phase of life where people still have the opportunity to continue contributing to society. They wish to be independent and live participative lives well into older age and take responsibility for their own wellbeing. This, however, requires physical and mental health. The Walk & Talk project integrates both aspects, learning and physical activity, in a unique way.

Walk’n’Talk is actually a therapy that originated in the US in the 80s. This therapy combines talking and walking outdoors that was proofed to be an effective method to make retirement an active phase of life. According to the demographic changes, people at the age of 65 and above, who have withdrown from the labor force, need to have the opportunity to stay healthy and active and watch life from a positive perspective as the chance for learning and enjoying. However, mental and physical health is necessary to increase quality of life. That is why taking part in Walk’n’Talk is a great chance to foster this overall health by means of taking advantage of its walks and talks through the inspiring nature with a group of people with the same needs and interests. As the name of the project suggest, this course is not developed to be taught in a normal formal setting as it is a traditional classroom but to be given outside in the nature where senior will walk in small groups and talk – and learn while sharing experience, knowledge and interests.

The main result of the Walk’n’Talk project will be a course curriulum and training materials, which will enhance the life quality of people at the age of 65 through outdoor non-formal learning activities. With this course for senior people, the partners intend to reduce social barriers and foster social inclusion and participation.

The increased competence of staff/adult educators in implementing activities in the field of adult education and thus activate local communities will be another important result. Last but not least, the participation of trainers/instructors is expected to deliver enhanced knowledge, skills and competences in training seniors; increased awareness of age-related differences in dual task situations and improved intercultural communication and understanding by contributing to the development of a European project.

Source: Walk & Talk Website

Monday, 21 November 2016 19:27

Using WIKIs for project management

Transnational project management is a key feature of all European projects, comprising a range of more or less formalized tasks and activities, that shall allow for the smooth and efficient implementation of projects. Over the past years a broad range of methods and tools have been developed, with a view to support the day-to-day and strategic management of EU projects. The bulk of those however is dedicated to planning, monitoring, documentation of results and outcomes, accountancy and evaluation.

Although those tools can be helpful at certain stages of a project, they show of very limited value when it’s about the a) creation of shared meaning of the project, as well as objectives and tasks, b) building of common ground for collaborative action, c) ensuring commitment, ownership and active engagement of everyone involved in the project and d) promoting exchange of experience and knowledge. In my opinion many of the problems that occur during the course of projects can be attributed to the absence of one or more of these conditions. The reasons may vary, as do the problems caused by them.

Project management software comprises tools, which work pretty well for projects taking place within organisations, but often show inefficient and bulky if applied to projects that operate across organisations and multi-stakeholder environments (typical for most European projects). Another shortcoming can be seen in the fact, that they require full control over all project parameters from the first to last second. The project design is supposed to be exactly right from the beginning, and within some narrow confines to remain unchanged until the end of the project. But, the most crucial downside is the fact, that most of those tools don't grow with the project needs.

In response to these limitations many of my colleagues including myself over the past years have searched for alternatives, which we finally found in WIKIs. Since 8 to 10 years we now work with WIKIs, with the help of which we build common workspaces and collaborative environments for European project partnerships.

WIKIS quite often are confused with Wikipedia, and people think of them mainly as tools for building knowledge repositories, such as encyclopedias or glossaries. However, WIKIs can do a lot more. They are real-time collaborative editing system, based on the wiki concept, which can be shaped in various ways to meet the needs of projects. One major advantage of WIKIs is that they can change to respond to the project's needs as they arise. This makes them attractive for project collaboration, especially when working in distributed project teams.


WIKIS help project actors on fitting their activities into the bigger picture

WIKIs gives project actors visibility into their work process and, more importantly, gives individuals and project partners a clear sense of where their work fits into the big picture, work and efforts of the team, questions they are grappling with and the complexity of tasks. Thus, WIKIs not only support a better understanding of the whole R&D endevaour, but help to break down any ‘them and us’ thinking. Moreover, WIKIs showed a much better means of coordinating contributors than the usual cumbersome method of e-mails and file attachments. And last but not least, WIKIs helped us to bring together all conversation and materials in one place. Jenny Mackness

A technical advantage of wikis over other document management tools is that there are plenty of good open source versions available at little or no cost. Plus, such wikis are usually extensible, so you can customize them to your needs. WIKIs are available as stand-alone software packages, which with the help of plugins can adapted to different needs. Those software packages are available for free, but require installation on a server (for example MediaWiki). So, some technical knowledge is required in order to make the WIKI work the way wanted. On the other hand there is various web services, such as pbworks, which offer free WIKI spaces, with an option to add extra features for a small fee.


Basic structure of the WIKI

Although some preliminary work (around 3 days) will be necessary to set up a WIKI, this investment pays off during the lifetime of the project and beyond. When creating a WIKI, the first step usually is to develop an overall structure and to define the areas and categories of utmost relevance for the project. All that should be kept as simple as possible.

Based on past project experience, I’d like to recommend the following basic sections:

  • Information section, where all official project information is stored (original application, overview of aims and objectives, work programme, specifications of tasks and deliverables),
  • News section, which holds updates on milestones reached, changes of the work program or partnership, calendar of forthcoming events and, any relevant third party news related to the subject area of the project,
  • Repository of results, holding draft and final versions of products (needs some conceptual planning. Especially when outputs are developed iteratively, and there's many versions of the same item.)
  • Library of documents (literature, materials, recommendations for further reading etc.)
  • Documentation section (minutes of online and face-to-face meetings)
  • Progress section, which at a glance provides an overview of upcoming, ongoing, completed and postponed tasks and activities, each of which should be linked up with the person(s) or team responsible for carrying out the activity.

Needless to say, that project managers should always bear in mind that, it’s first and foremost persons who come together in projects in order to share their experience and expertise towards solving a problem or developing innovations, while partner organisations by and large remain black boxes for those collaborating on a daily basis. But that's another story.

Over the years WIKIs for us turned out a quite valuable tool, helping to support the project actors towards developing a sense of ownership for processes and results , as well as building common ground and shared meaning for collaborative action.


Adding visibility

WIKIs also offer a variety of tools, which can be used to visualize virtually every aspect of a project. For example, our wikis start with a picture of the team, taken at a workshop all participants felt comfortable with. This reminds people of both, that they are part of a bigger team, and in a more subtle manner, of successful collaboration in the past. Moreover, we add photographs of key actors to each single task and activity. So, everyone in an eye-catching manner can see who's engaged in a certain piece of work, team mates sharing the work, persons with leading roles, peer reviewers involved etc. Photos show that a real person is behind each activity. Nothing is sadder than tasks lists with a bunch of partner logos, indicating the organisation a person represents in the project partnership.

The photograph is followed by both, a short and detailed description of tasks and activities. We usually spend plenty of time on breaking down „abstract“ tasks into concrete activities because of two reasons. We often have the situation that applications were written by one or two key persons, who built the project on assumptions, ideas and concepts most of which remain implicit and thus, there is a certain risk that people come to different interpretations of the same text. Also at this point WIKIs can be of great value, because they allow project actors to add their point of view or make comments on conclusions drawn by others. So, step by step the partnership can build common ground for the project.



WIKI page: News section


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WIKI page: Repository of project outcomes and results

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WIKI page: Monitoring progress

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To help cities better address challenges such as Inclusion of Migrants and Refugees, Poverty, and to make the most out of EU funding opportunities, the European Commission has launched a new web portal during the European Week of Regions and Cities.

The new Urban Data Platform of the Knowledge Centre for Territorial Policies operated by the Joint Research Centre, gives a single access point to shared indicators on the status and trends of over 800 European urban areas – on a variety of themes, such as demography, urban development, economic development, transport and accessibility, environment and climate, resource efficiency and social issues (including share of persons in tertiary education, participation in education, percentage of early school leavers, people at risk of poverty and social exclusion).

discuss toitoitoi projectThe "TOI TOI TOI" project in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme has developed a range of web tools, which shall allow project coordinators to evaluate themselves, partner organisations and whole project consortia with a view to their capacity towards ensuring sustainable impact of projects.

The tools have been developed based on in-depth analysis of past LdV-ToI projects, and by project coordinators can be used to evaluate their own and other partners' organisational and professional capacities, including a range of basic competences needed in order to  effectively contribute to the creation of impact and sustainability of education development projects. The tools can be used for both, self- and team-evaluation.

Website: Toi Toi Toi Project




discuss pactamsterdamOn 30. May 2016 an informal meeting of EU Ministers with responsibility for urban affairs took place in Amsterdam, at the initiative of the Dutch Presidency. During this meeting an "Urban Agenda for the EU", also called "Pact of Amsterdam", has been established. The goal is networking and knowledge sharing of city authorities at European level, also to achieve better regulation and the promotion at EU level.

The European Urban Agenda is a joint effort of European Commission, Member States and European Cities Networks to strengthen the recognition of the urban dimension by European and national policy actors. Through the Urban Agenda for the EU, national governments, the European Commission, European institutions and other stakeholders will be working together for a sustainable, innovative and economically powerful Europe that offers a good quality of life.

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