Trading Up Western Australia 2008

CY O’Connor College of TAFE

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Background

The majority of the Trade students at CY O’Connor are apprentices although some may be undertaking VETiS courses or other learning pathways. Most of the students are young males, with educational backgrounds ranging from early school leavers to recent Year 12 completion. Most although not all of the students will have computer/Internet access at home – others may have opportunities to access the resource through workplaces or telecentres. These students are of an age group that has grown up with technology. Although they may lack the more formal IT skills the majority are familiar with using computers for Internet access/navigation and/or gaming and also with a range of other related/similar technology including mobile phones and ipods. Initial introduction to the e-hub is planned to be during college attendance time, when there is facilitator support available if required.
Traditionally e-learning strategies have been used only occasionally by lecturers in the Trades areas at CY O’Connor. With the current skills shortage there is an increasing demand for qualified Tradespeople in regional WA. The “knock on” impact from this is a need to provide additional and alternative resources and support for students so that they are more likely to complete their courses. This is particularly important for regional students who attend college in a block or other release pattern, or indeed are wholly external. Students who are external or who are geographically or otherwise isolated from their peers when not at college are less likely to successfully complete their course than those who are in close contact with fellow students.
The project involved development of a multifaceted “e-hub” for Trades’ Students and their Lecturers to provide:
  • a forum for discussion both within and between trade areas with opportunities for both work-related and social networking with learners in their own and other trade areas
  • a repository for links to relevant resources (eg job opportunities, WorkSafe) for learners again within and across trade areas
  • a source of resources to support the development of the necessary employability skills and the literacy, numeracy and study skills for achievement (including the collection and indexing of workplace evidence)
  • learning materials eg Toolboxes, audio/visuals such as demonstration of skills (customised as necessary to provide alternative/additional resources for learners) to provide re-inforcing resources once students have finished college blocks
  • assessment information and documentation (for students and also for lecturers).
The e-learning strategy that has been put in place is initially through the use of the LMS (using learning objects, some in-house developed documents and learning activities, links to a range of other online resources, and discussions). This will enable students to: access additional supporting resources to help them complete their off-campus/work-based tasks and evidence collection; and also to continue/extend the networks that have begun to form during their first on-campus study time.

The Framework connections

Framework products and services
The most significant products used were a large number of Learning objects from the Metals and Automotive toolboxes sourced from LORN.
We also used:
Support from the Framework team in WA
AREDv2
Designing E-Learning
E-standards for Training
Copyright Kitchen.

Outcomes
Case study with a focus on what was achieved, problems and issues and how these were, or were not, overcome
A model/example for the design, development and structure of the LMS based hub that can be used to provide a basis for other hubs across trades or for similar hubs in other areas. This will include a listing of resource titles (eg LORN, videos etc) related to units.
Most of the resources included in the Hub are pre-existing so there is no developed content available. Thus a large amount of time input was in researching and confirming the relevance/usefulness of existing online resources and in the case of LORN downloading and re-uploading them to the LMS. Providing a listing of resources for others will limit their time input in terms of finding and confirming the suitability of resources.



Building on essential infrastructure

We have built on the framework infrastructure through our use of the learning objects available through LORN. These learning objects have been invaluable as they have enabled lecturers with little e-learning expereince to access good learning resources for their students
We will be contributing to the infrastructure through: the case study which will help others undertaking similar development by indicating possible issues and solutions; and through the model which can be used as a framework for similar developments and will provide information on pre-existing resources. These will benefit the framework by providing tools that may be used to support future development.

Embedding E-learning

The project has utilised WebCT as a “One-stop” option for accessing resources and networks, and has integrated some facets of e-learning more usually associated with Web 2.0. This was recognised throughout as a non-ideal solution. However the rationale was that greater acceptance by lecturers would occur if the e-learning strategy utilised a “traditional” e-learning tool such as an LMS and included a form of social networking, rather than use a blend incorporating the Web 2.0 social networking tools. The Web 2.0 tools have very negative connotations overall for the Trades lecturers at the college and are strongly perceived by them as wasting time. Whereas the traditional LMS has some measure of acceptance among this group of lecturers.
There is an organisational priority to increase blended learning in order to: enable regional and remote learners to access learning (from home, work or Telecentres) – this reduces travel time and/or provides alternatives to traditional paper based external studies; increases flexibility; enhances student learning experience; better meets individual needs; and increases engagement of disengaged learners. WebCT is currently the organisation’s LMS so has the necessary support mechanisms both internally and on an external basis through WestOne. However, the college has experienced a number of technical problems with accessing WebCT and also with accessing external websites. This was preceded by a deterioration in speed of access. This has been at least partly due to acknowledged issues with the servers.
This has been a continuing issue, and is compounded by bandwidth issues. There are also ongoing issues with security, the blocking of access to specific file types and the unavailability of players (eg Flash) on some college computers.

Achievements

1) A Trades e-hub containing:
• subject specific resources (LORN)
• course specific documents eg task sheets for evidence collection
• links to pre-existing external subject specific resources
• resources and links to support students in their learning outside their college block or day release
• resources and links to support students in developing employability skills and thus their careers
• opportunities for students to build and maintain both social and professional networks through online contact.
2) A model for developing similar hubs across other industry areas.
3) A case study detailing the development of the e-learning delivery, the issues encountered and possible solutions.
4) An increased understanding, by trades lecturers at the college, of the benefits for them in utilising e-learning (outside the usual face-to-face training delivered during student blocks) to support their delivery and their studen’t learning.
It is too soon to see significant direct benefits from the project. The six months of the funding period is a very short time frame in which to both develop and satisfactorily trial any e-learning project or strategy. This has been made worse for this project for three reasons:
a) the breadth encompassed by the project;
b) because the project had a slow start due to Trades lecturers workloads and negativity re e-learning – this had an additional “knock on” effect as there were few students due to attend college by the time appropriate resources were available,
c) the issues experienced by the college in respect of Internet access and server overload. Although we have been unable to trial this with as many students as initially hoped for a range of reasons (se above - greater detailwith be provided in the case study that is still being written).
However, approximately 10 first year apprentices in Metal Fabrication have been introduced to the Hub. Despite their initial introduction to the Hub being marred by the connection issues their responses have been very positive. The introduction was done either individually or to groups of 2-3. The students logged in to WebCT and found the resources engaging – one group became involved in a discussion with one another about the use of a particular tool, others were pleased to have discovered the correct name for a tool. They all felt that the LORN objects and links to video would be helpful for them and expressed interest in using the Hub next year because it would improve their access to resources and help them to succeed in their course
Because the project had a very slow start we have no direct returns on investment as yet. There has been a preceptible attitudinal change among trades lecturers in Metal Fabrication and to a lesser extent in Automotive. Also the small number of students that have been introduced to the Hub feel that it will help them with their course.

Executive Summary

This project involved the development of a multifaceted LMS based “e-hub” for Trades’ Students and their Lecturers to network and to access customised resources. A Learning Management System (LMS) in this case CE6 was used to provide the potential for customised “one-stop” access to resources and networking opportunities for all Trades students. One of the main purposes in the development of this hub was the future encouragement of study, work-related and social networking between students by moving away from the “one unit, one course” concept and towards a more holisitic model.
This model is of a common hub across a number of units, qualifications or (as with the Trades E-hub) industry areas. Qualifications and/or units can be made available on an individual basis using the LMS selective release functions.
The current skills shortage is leading to increasing pressure to provide alternative and additional support for learning across the Trades in order to facilitate more students to enrol and successfully access learning so that they complete their qualifications. The development of an “e-hub” is only one strategy for expanding opportunities to access learning and support. However it is particularly appropriate for CY O’Connor because of the very large catchement areaa and wide geographical dispersion of students.
The pupose is to empower regional students in the trades areas (Metal Fabrication, Automotive, Building/Construction) to successfully complete their trade qualifications and thus their apprenticeships and to establish networks both within and across trades areas. These networks will be both study/work related and social. They will not only provide the basis for the networking that is significant in supporting successful course completion and future career development but will also extend the social networks that have been recognised as being important for general well-being. The trades students follow a variety of college attendance patterns (eg block release, day release) depending on their area of study and year of apprenticeship. Many of the trades students have LLN/Study Skills needs, these are addressed for work carried out in college by the CAVSS (Course in Applied Vocational Study Skills) programme. However all of these students need to gather workplace evidence and complete tasks in their workplace as part of their courses and when they return to their workplaces they no longer have: the same degree of access to resources and support; or opportunities for maintaining and building networks. This e-hub makes resources, support and networking opportunities available in an alternative way

For more information

Jo Hart
Lecturer
Trading Up/CY O’Connor TAFE
Phone: (08) 9622 6798
Email: jo.hart@cyoctafe.wa.edu.au

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