Back to Stockholm – Back to the cruise conference(s)

Both last year and this year I had the privilege to participate in the International Vocational Education and Training (VET) conferences organised by Stockholm University in the beginning of May. These conferences have become already a tradition – the 2017 conference was already the sixth and this year it was already the seventh. The practical arrangements are also very special – the conference starts at noon in a the conference rooms of a cruise terminal. After the first sessions the whole conference boards on a ship and continues it work in the conference rooms of the ship. While we are working, the ship makes the trip through the Stockholm archipelago and finally stops at the port of Mariehamn (Maarianhamina) – on the Swedish-speaking island Åland (Ahvenenmaa) between Sweden and the Finnish mainland. In the morning the ship starts the journey back to Stockholm and the conference continues until the ship getting near the port of Stockholm.

When looking back at the two cruise conferences in which I have participated, there was a clear difference to me regarding my personal life situation and in my work. In 2017 I had had a treatment of severe illness behind me and I was in the process of recovery. Also, we had just completed the EU-funded Learning Layers project (2012-2016) and finished the last reporting duties arising from the final review meeting (January 2017). So, when I prepared my contributions for the conference, I was still to a great degree working in a ‘reporting mode’ – describing the activities of the project and explaining the specific choices of the construction pilot and the accompanying research team of our institute ITB. And – although I have a background in the Nordic and European VET research cooperation – I was a ‘newcomer’ in this setting. So, I had to familiarise myself with this conference pattern in order to  learn as best I could from the other contributions.

Now, thinking the conference of this year, my situation was completely different. During the year that had passed by, I had been monitoring the follow-up initiatives of the Learning Layers’ Construction pilot (efforts to extend the scope of working with digital tools in organisational and individual learning contexts). Moreover, I had had the chance to revisit the theoretical and methodological roots of our approach that we had followed in the project. So, I had a chance to discuss the challenges of our innovation research in a transition phase – from the original project to the successor activities. And I had the chance to discuss, how our approach had built upon its predecessors but also, what new elements our context brought into discussion.

I will not try to give an overview, what all themes were covered in these conferences – that would go beyond the limits of blog articles. Instead, I am better off referring to the website of the conference organisers:

https://stockholminternationalvet.com/

This website provides information on the previous conferences as well as on the recent one. And – moreover – it provides links to the book publications based on the conference material. The book based on the 2017 conference was just published for the next conference. And the book based on the 2018 conference material will be produced even quicker – that is what we all hope. (In the meantime I will also publish updates on my ‘project’ spaces on the ResearchGate portal.)

What I want to emphasis in this context is the very specific atmosphere of these cruise conferences – they bring the participants from the Nordic circles, from the European circles and from the wider international circles closer to each other. Moreover, this conference has more intellectual flexibility to take on board interim reflections – not only finalised results and completed theoretical discourses. From that perspective it has gained an acknowledged position as a valuable ‘interim conference’ vis-à-vis the annual ECER conferences and the VET research program of the VETNET network.

However, having said that, I have to mention that for this reason the VETNET community had agreed on new conference schedules. Parallel to this Stockholm conference, we experienced the emergence of another similar ‘interim conference’ with similar features of bringing different circles of international and European VET researchers together. With this ‘other’ I refer to the “Crossing Boundaries in VET” conferences that were started in Bremen in 2015 and continued in Rostock in 2017. With these conferences the organisers had thought that the timing – one week before the annual ECER conference – would be helpful for the international participants. But this was no necessarily the case. Therefore, a mutual agreement was reached that the Stockholm conference will be organised from now on every two years and that in between the “Crossing Boundaries in VET” conference will be organised elsewhere in Europe.

So, after wrapping up my experiences with the Stockholm conference, I had to start working with the proposals for the next “Crossing Boundaries …” conference that will take place in May 2019. As the organisers of that conference want to deliver the proceedings already at the conference (and have managed to do this both times), the call for proposals was closed already at the end of May. So, to quote an old phrase: “After the conference is – before a conference”. Also in this respect, May 2018 was a busy month. But there were also other activities.

More blogs to come …