Empowering Learners Western Australia 2009

Central West TAFE


Background

In 2008 Central West TAFE commenced a three year plan to embed e-learning into the organisation. The research “Innovate and Integrate: Embedding innovative practices” by Marie Jasinski (2007) was used as the catalyst for the development of a three year strategy to embed e-learning into the College. With a carefully selected project team and a skilled facilitator and mentor we used the tools from the Innovate and Integrate research to benchmark where we were at and to set goals for achievement. Considerable advances to embedding e-learning occurred across the organisation and a ‘ripple effect’ has commenced. The College has used the project this year to concentrate on Phase 2 of this strategy.
Due to the regional location of Central West TAFE, access to remote clients and those in outlying workplaces remains a challenge. The industries of Mining, Fishing, Agriculture and the aligned service industries are our major clients. However, with the global financial crisis the need to provide credentialed recognition of individual’s work skills and just in time gap training is critical to providing opportunities for those who are now seeking work, or wanting to further their careers. The focus of this project was to expand workplace training, Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and gap training opportunities across our key industry areas. The target client group was mature age workers in areas where the College has found it difficult to deliver training at higher AQF levels and assessment through traditional modes.
The focus was on qualifications where there was potential for significant business growth and where there has already been some success with e-learning strategies. We have built on resources that are already in place and customised Framework products to create more comprehensive training and assessment offerings. Focusing on specific qualifications real learning pathways have been created, rather than a piecemeal approach. This development has began to open up markets that previously have been difficult to service and provides learners with greater opportunities if they wish to move through higher education, from VET and on to university.
By building on what has already been developed the College is continuing to streamline this process and is continuously improving the access to learning materials for our clients. This will help to alleviate the down time for companies while their employees are training. With more trained employees workplace efficiencies are also created. The benefits for these industries are significant, not only for the identified workplaces, but also for other companies that qualified employees with increased skill levels could move to in the future.
By increased training provision the whole regional skill pool that employers can access will be greatly expanded.
This strategy also builds on the goal of partnering with industry to promote and provide e-learning as a cost effective, flexible and efficient way of providing for their skill needs. This forms part of a wider business strategy to achieve more efficient outcomes, add value and transform the training provided at Central West TAFE to encompass more industry partnerships, along with the availability of blended and flexible modes of delivery and assessment.

What was done

The project commenced with an Induction Day for the project team. A variety of professional development activities were completed by the project team to set them up with the tools to continue to develop their individual projects.

The main industry areas focused on in this project were:
• Rural Operations and Civil Construction (gap training and assessment only pathways)
• Children’s Services (particularly for existing workers undertaking Diploma and Advanced Diploma studies)
• Certificates II in Engineering - Split Systems Air Conditioning
• Certificate IV in Hospitality (Management training for internal and external clients)
• Certificate IV in Business (on-the-job gap training and assessment only pathways)

The industry areas we also supported and built upon from the 2008 e-learning strategy included:
• Hairdressing (Moodle course for theory components of Apprenticeship training that can be accessed by learners on the job)
• Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (further development of e-learning resources)
• Certificate III in Laboratory Skills (further development of ‘modulised’ e-learning resources that reflect application of real workplace tasks rather than Unit of Competence criterion).

The success of our strategy lies in our ability to offer high quality products and tools for both the learner and the facilitator that are user-friendly and adaptable to specific contexts, particularly the workplace and remote locations. Individual participants were paired with a skilled facilitator who could mentor them in the development of their products. These products included use of a learning management system (LMS), appropriate communication and collaboration/social networking tools and the e-learning content. The College has worked steadily towards embedding a sustainable technical support system for the Blackboard CE6 and Moodle learning management systems. Elluminate was used for web-conferencing and social networking tools that have enabled workforce learners from diverse locations to build their own learning community were also investigated.
All of this involved working closely with the College’s Information Support Systems team, as there are still some policy constraints associated with the use of some Web 2.0 tools such as Flickr, Delicious, Facebook and Twitter. Some of these issues have begun to be overcome with the unblocking of YouTube for staff access on campus, but there are many issues that still need to be navigated and resolved. How this has been overcome is to continue the dialogue and understanding between the College’s Information Support Systems team and the project team and development of a shared understanding of how the College will move towards fully embedding e-learning.
Many of the planned industry areas (from construction through to childcare) that took part in this project have been piloting the use of e-portfolios as a means of capturing evidence of learners’ existing skills and experience. The Civil Construction lecturer has been piloting the use of an assessment evidence collection tool developed for use on a PDA during one of the College’s previous LearnScope projects. The lecturer found this tool to be easy to use and very useful when working in the workplace. There were a number of issues with this software as it was not enterprise efficient. As a concept the tool is a very effective and efficient way of improving our service delivery. In practical terms there were some constraints with the software that for now will not allow us to embed this across the College. The College is now putting processes in place to develop the product at an enterprise level. The major learning to occur here was the need to place more focus on the initial technical development phase.
What has worked well throughout the project is the utilising of Framework products for example the use of the ‘LORN’ allows the development of learning activities much more quickly than starting from scratch. Underpinning Central West TAFE’s three year strategy are the Innovate and Integrate tools, which have provided us with a rigorous systematic approach as we work towards developing and embedding a sustainable e-learning culture across all levels of the organisation.
A major lesson we have learned is to develop the products with a SCORM compliant tool prior to loading them into any specific learning management system as this means products are then more portable. Also, to undertake the development of content for learning management systems in topics rather than as a unit of competence, as this also ensures a greater sustainability of the product.


Benefits experienced by Central West TAFE

The College has benefited from the project with the development of products that can increase our market share. It has allowed us to begin developing lucrative niche markets, which will ensure the College’s viability in an increasingly competitive market place.
The promotion of the projects achievements throughout the College and to Corporate Executive has raised awareness of the need for an even more focussed approach to the development of non traditional classroom based methodologies and the corresponding resourcing of these developments.
From the perspective of the participants in the project the e-innovation funding has provided them with opportunities to further develop their skills and to be exposed to new technologies and developments in a supportive environment. It allowed dedicated time for the development of courses that in some instances will commence this year, but mostly in 2010 and beyond. It has enabled the lecturers to really think about what they want in their online courses and to open their minds to possibilities as they know that there are others there who can help them to make it happen.
It also allows them to share these skills with others. One of the participants describes her involvement in the project:
“I have been involved in e-learning projects for the last four years and have found it an invaluable opportunity to gain exposure to the range of innovative technologies available to engage students in their learning.
The funding has allowed time for me to experiment with these technologies and customise them to my specific delivery area. It has allowed me to be supported by my mentor with expertise in this area and enabled me to implement and embed e-learning into my delivery.
I am currently working in Blackboard CE6, but am looking at moving over to Moodle. I am hoping to have the opportunity to continue with this e-learning arrangement with the intention of putting both qualifications that I co-ordinate and deliver fully online, with live support through Elluminate sessions, interactive LORN objects and audio visual support material.”

The mentors have also indicated that they have learnt much as well, becoming a lot more familiar with various programmes that will assist in making interesting online courses i.e. Wimba Create, Mahara, and even Moodle. They have noticed the different pedagogical styles used by the different lecturers they have worked with and how this reflects on their course development ideas. One of the mentors said:
“I believe that the mentor system we have used has worked really well, but (as always) more dedicated time and funds to this type of project would keep the momentum going as I can see more and more lecturers with their interest piqued and lots of opportunities where the College could put courses online and better serve our clientel.”

Lessons learnt

One of the key lessons we have learnt through this project is the value of mentors. To have mentors who have the flexibility to devote sufficient time to their roles is important. The right mentors ensure the projects keep moving and are not stalled by the participants being unable to access the support when they most need it.
Also importantly to carefully select team members who are committed to the development of their program. To ensure the team members supervisors are aware of this commitment and respect the time required to complete the projects. This has been an issue throughout the project and perhaps could have been resolved by timely reminders to the supervisors of their commitment. In addition a more proactive marketing of the project earlier may have prevented some of the team members being overwhelmed with the workload of competing priorities.
The College has moved forward considerably in its approach to e-learning over the past three years. Much of this is due to the support of the Steering Committee to ensure any constraints or blockages are identified and resolved so that projects can achieve the goals of the College without too much red tape. Although this is an important aspect of the project, it is still vital that these relationships be maintained and nurtured past the life of the project so that e-learning can be fully embedded into the organisation.
Often we are so busy doing that we forget to reflect where we have come from and celebrate our achievements. This is a very motivating tool which can invigorate participants to achieve their goals. It is also a good opportunity to pause and showcase the achievements to others. We did this at the very beginning of the project and towards the end. We should have had a showcase mid project which would have also generated more interest across the College and invigorated the team.
From the development aspect the shift to presenting learning information in topics not in Units of Competence has ensured that our developments can be sustainable long past the current version of a Training Package and across qualifications in like topics. We have shifted all our new course developments across the College to a learning topic format.

The results

Overall, the main results for the project were the additional courses that we now have available to offer clients who are generally unable to access our face to face delivery options. In areas such as Certificate II in Engineering - Split Systems Air Conditioning, where only one other TAFE in Australia offers the qualification via flexible delivery mode, we now have the course available within a Moodle LMS, giving us access to a niche market. Similarly, in the industry areas of science, hairdressing and hospitality we have now have resources available that enable learners to access materials and interactively engage with their course content, from any location. For clients undertaking training in the science areas, this means they can be working on distant mine sites and still be gaining new skills and upgrading their qualifications whilst they are working.
Also, as a result of the organisation’s e-learning strategy the improved communications between the internal corporate and academic sectors has resulted in a more supportive approach to the support and services provided. An example of this was the opening up of YouTube as a resource for teaching staff. This has allowed lecturers to tap into the vast pool of existing training resources available from YouTube and to upload videos created by their learners for assessment evidence, which also then become additional training resources for future classes.
The organisation’s participation in the Moodle Pilot provided by WestOne Services this year has also increased the knowledge base and expertise of the staff who have been involved and as a result we now have staff skilled at the administration and the facilitation level using Moodle and the organisation is also progressing towards implementing its own sustainable Moodle platform in 2010. Once again, the improved communications between the Information Systems department and the academic staff this year has enabled this process to proceed in a way that will provide ongoing benefits to both the lecturing staff and the learners who will have access to the Moodle courses we will have available in the future.
Finally, the professional development infrastructure available to staff, particularly those from the other campus locations, has been enhanced through the continued development of the Moodle resource repository that commenced in 2008. We now have seven staff professional development courses available in Moodle, with the anticipation that this will continue to grow annually. As well as staff being able to access a number of relevant professional development topics wherever and whenever it is convenient, they are also being exposed to a model for accessible training that it is hoped through their personal experiences, they will be motivated to embrace for their own course delivery.

Reflections and suggestions

As this is the second year of our organisation’s e-learning strategy, we had many good strategies in place already, as a result of lessons learned in 2008. We were much clearer about targeting specific industry areas with a need to participate in the project and ensured management and supervisors were committed and supportive of the participants and the anticipated project outcomes. In future we would like to think we could take this even further with a firm agreement by supervisors to help us ensure all the industry areas / qualifications that are involved in the project have clients actually enrolled in them and trialling the materials within the project’s given timeframe.
We have also experienced the benefits and believe it is imperative to have a good working relationship with staff in the Information Systems area. In our organisation this has sometimes meant some debating and negotiating, however it has been important to align the goals and priorities of both sectors to the overall goals of the organisation and to ensure decisions are based on outcomes that allow us to provide the best possible services to our clients. Each year as technology has moved further away from the ‘locked’ systems that IT departments have traditionally supported and more towards Web 2.0 and web 3.0 open-source and more dynamic tools, it has become additionally important to understand the implications of this from both the corporate and the academic perspective. We have made much more progress in terms of access to software and technology by taking this position and fostering the good working ‘relationship’.
For the successes we have had, we have also experienced some setbacks and through this it has been very important to stay focused on the overall goal to embed e-learning across the organisation. Two years into our three year plan we can see the ripple effect is definitely occurring and our ‘pockets’ of innovators are becoming less isolated, as other lecturers and teams are exposed to the opportunities that e-learning can create and are approaching us to get e-learning happening within their areas. An example of this is the Beauty Therapy team who have been watching the development of the hairdressing Moodle course and have decided they would like to start off with an online forum for the Diploma of Beauty Therapy students and then gradually move towards also getting all their course materials online. Our Innovators Showcase sessions have also really helped with this exposure and have even opened the eyes of managers in departments that have generally little to do with training and delivery.

The Framework connection

The national training system’s e-learning strategy, the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (Framework ) funds and supports E-learning Innovations projects which aim to embed e-learning into the national training system by supporting and enabling innovation in training design and delivery, at the state and territory level.
In the project this year we have used and customised a variety of Framework products and services, including some Toolbox resources and LORN objects and have customised the way we have used these for the specific course context. For example, relevant learning objects from the 905 Fabrication Toolbox have been used in the air conditioning Moodle course. Some of the project team members also used the ARED tool to develop learning sequences. We have referred to the e-learning technical standards for VET to ensure anything developed in this project meets and complies with the set standards. We have accessed research and benchmarking to ensure our project team is well informed regarding new developments and directions. This has included participation in e-Gems Elluminate web conferences, either live or by listening to recorded sessions that are appropriate to what has been happening within the project.
The paper “Innovate and Integrate Embedding Innovative Practices” by Marie Jasinski (2007) has been used to develop our three year strategy to embed e-learning across Central West TAFE. This project forms just part of that strategy. Particular aspects of the research, such as the enablers for embedding innovative e-learning checklist, the four phase strategy for embedding, Case studies and the innovation styles profile have been considered in the development of the organisation’s e-learning business strategy.
Specific products and resources from the Framework that we have used during the project are:
• Toolboxes, LORN and the Toolbox repository
• AREDv2
• E-Gems and the June and November online events
• The new Employability Skills and e-portfolios research and print materials
• E-standards for Training
• A guide to working with M-Learning Standards
• E-standards for Training and Access to Bandwidth Projects
• Basic technical requirements for commonly used VET e-learning applications
• Designing e-learning
• Copyright Kitchen
• VET e-learning content development guidelines
• E- learning for Industry
Several of the project team also attended the Online 09: E-learning by design conference in Perth on the 20th November 2009 and this has inspired the project team to refocus goals for 2010. The College has also received significant support from the WA Framework team. In addition to this we have also received considerable support from WestOne Services. Without the support of this team, it would have been difficult to achieve many of our outcomes.


Acknowledgement

This is a Western Australian E-learning Innovations project output, developed by Central West TAFE, with seed funding from the Framework.
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For more information

Central West TAFE
Kath Wallace
Principal Lecturer
Project Manager: Expanding E-learning
Phone: (08) 9956 2707
Email: Kath.Wallace@durack.edu.au

For more information on the Australian Flexible Learning Framework:
Phone: (07) 3307 4700
Email: enquiries@flexiblelearning.net.au
Website: flexiblelearning.net.au