The Swedish reorganisation of upper secondary school, launched in the early 1990s, resulted in a system of strictly defined and discrete courses imposed on vocational education. It also followed that a learning context similar to an industry work shop was transformed into a more abstract and isolated school. A consequence is less of coherence with industry working life in favour of course specific training modules. In Sweden, the fine grained course system entail a clearly projected outcome in terms of the individual learners results, intentionally emphasised and made visible for grading on a linear scale. This is a major shift away from education organised as a combination of planned and emerging activities anchored in the study programmes ”home”, that were the ”work shop classroom”. Typical examples of such activities included repair of equipment belonging to the school or somebody else outside school. With less pre-determined organisation, more freedom was given to collaboration between pupils and teachers that faced challenges of practical problems to be intertwined with ordinary learning tasks. We consider the shift and reduction of vocational education into minor pieces of pre-defined and given knowledge as a serious problem for both the learners and current demands of working life. In our experiements we try a way to (re-)establish elements of a kind of work shop environment. We believe that concrete experiements that break the individualistic course confinement have a potential to re-create aspects of a work practice that is more real in the sense of skills and expert diversity. Further, the learners activities in a more free setting can open up for new solutions to current problems of working life. In our approach, at the Technology and Learning Laboratory (TELL), we combine industry models as ”a whole” requiring community formations and the use of a rich set of tools and documents. One concrete model comprise a liquid flow and automated tank level control, a kind of process industry in a concentrated form. A second model is a sorting machinery that handle different made physical ”pieces” that are the imagined outcome from a simulated production work. The model combination and set-up are learning artefacts that are (or have been) used at vocational education around the country, but in our laboratory they are treated and utilized in a different way, more like dealing with working machinery at the shop floor. Students from the university and pupils of vocational education assume the roles of e.g. machine operators and managers when they play the game we call “industry live”, that is a kind of role-playing game. Instead of emphasizing an optimum configuration of the machinery, it is about peoples interaction in simulation of production work. Three to five people are playing the game at the same time and realize a shift interval at work that have to ”hand over” the ”production work” to a following work shift. Hence actual status of ”production” is to be reported to the subsequent shift of students or pupils. Attention to disturbancies and weaknes of production flow are important aspects of learning how to maintain smooth operation of machinery at the factory. The motive to be attentative is twofold, on the one hand to be prepared for handling a faulty situation and on the other hand to use disturbancies as sources for deeper understanding of the machinery. However, for a learner it can be difficult to get access to a machine when it is running ”live” in authentic industrial settings. This is a reason for us to set up and run simulation games at the laboratory, but we not only introduce a simpler version of real work. By adding a special feature to the simulator, a fault injecting functionality (developed at TELL), an alternative to conventional school learning and actual industry production is realized. Thus, our ”industry live” challenge the players to deal with faulty situations. So, what we try out is a special environment, an experiment in accordance with TELLs purpose to study communicative practices and learning activity. For a conceptual understanding the game is a way to explore boundary-crossing in between school and work. Our attempts resembles a school setting closer to real industrial work but also aspects of developmental work research. In the paper we will discuss (1) possibilities and limitations of the idea and practice of “industry live” in an educational setting, including what can be learned from having labour and industrial production systems simulated; (2) the prospect for a new kind of learning to be constituted on the basis of education, research and developmental experiments related to “industry live” modeling.
Hönefoss, Norway, 2007.