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."

Published in Miscellaneous topics
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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discuss dead letterThere are two objects taken as an exasperating and unavoidable duty by the vast majority of people outside my bubble: to study and to job.

Therefore and amongst others, two vital and increasing societal movements alarm this vast majority: the so-called „lifelong learning“ and „to job up to your seventies“. The liquidation of former accepted age limits causes deep uncertainty.

And this is the first dilemma, focused by a saying that sails through the web for months now: „Those who require us to work until we’re seventy are the same who refuse giving us a job after we passed our fiftieth birthday.“

But there’s also a second dilemma: to stay connected to the job market, I have to seamless participate in further education – although nobody can anticipate, in which direction this market will move.

discuss inclusion practicesThe Erasmus+ partnership ON THE MOVE just released a best practice guide on how to reach out to and include persons from vulnerable groups in the world of Lifelong Learning. The publication is based on reviews of more than 100 European projects, providing outreach educational guidance and low-threshold learning opportunities.

A major aim of the project is to make staff in counselling and educational institutions in Europe aware of "alternative approaches (predominantly of the outreach kind) bringing educationally remote and low-qualified people to further education and will implement these in their countries".

discuss learning cities awardsUrban populations have been growing more rapidly than ever in recent years: more than half of the world’s population nowadays lives in cities, and the number is expected to rise to 60 percent by 2030. Cities become increasingly influential in national and world affairs as they expand. However, this expansion is also presenting municipal governments with multiple challenges relating to social cohesion, economic development and sustainability.

A growing number of cities see the implementation of a lifelong learning strategy for inclusive, sustainable urban development as key to tackling these challenges. These cities are developing innovative strategies that allow citizens of all ages to learn new skills and competencies throughout life, thereby transforming their cities into ‘learning cities’. The UNESCO Learning City Award has been established in order to further promote lifelong learning for all and showcase good practice in building learning cities. It is conferred on cities that are implementing the Key Features of Learning Cities and have thereby achieved outstanding progress in building learning cities.

discuss locate media

LOCATE aims at building platforms of local community learning, media and participation to help develop community capacity and stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship and capacity for change by encouraging the discovery and use of untapped potential from within communities and territories.

 

 

In 2013 (Jan. 1st), around 34 million persons born in a third country (TCNs) were currently living in the European Union (EU), representing 7% of its total population. Integrating immigrants, i.e. allowing them to participate in the host society at the same level as natives, is an active, not a passive, process that involves two parties, the host society and the immigrants, working together to build a cohesive society.

Policy-making on integration is commonly regarded as primarily a matter of concern for the receiving state, with general disregard for the role of the sending state. However, migrants belong to two places: first, where they come and second, where they now live. While integration takes place in the latter, migrants maintain a variety of links with the former. New means of communication facilitating contact between migrants and their homes, globalisation bringing greater cultural diversity to host countries, and nation-building in source countries seeing expatriate nationals as a strategic resource have all transformed the way migrants interact with their home country.

 

The learning city concept can contribute greatly to lifelong learning objectives within a community (rural area, neighbourhood, city or region). However, it must be well planned, engage stakeholders from across different sectors and most importantly provide a mechanism for monitoring progress.

I define lifelong learning using the PASCAL definition[1] ‘structured, purposeful learning throughout the lifespan, from cradle to grave’. This links with the UNESCO definition of a Learning City[2], which feature the mobilization of resources for some broad goals to do with individual empowerment, economic and cultural prosperity, social cohesion and sustainable development. The resources include formal education, workplace learning, community and family learning, technology, ensuring a quality experience while developing a culture of learning within a community.