This paper is written from the point of view of an educator in the Australian Vocational Education & Training (VET) sector. The Federal Government of Australia is pursuing a competitive funding agenda where training institutions will be funded on their ability to show responsiveness to customer needs, flexibility and effective industry partnerships.

In summary my contention is:

  • student outcomes in our courses are heavily prescribed by the national body
  • a lot of the teaching we do in our sector is still of the traditional f2f type in classrooms with lock step curriculum despite the big moves to Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and workplace delivery and assessment
  • where technology is used, it augments the traditional way e.g. an iPoD for a presentation, an IWB to access some interactivity or internet resources
  • a small but increasing proportion of teaching is blended – but often with an LMS which continues the teacher led paradigm
  • Web 2.0 technologies are used peripherally and we don’t yet have a lot of examples of the paradigm shift to learner generated content and all the other changes possible with Web 2.0 (see Siemens 2008a p.12).

The changing roles of a VET Educator

In one sense the role of an educator never changes – our job is to answer three questions. What is clearly changing is the way we need to answer each of these questions:

  1. what will I teach? should be more about the skills of lifelong learning and employability skills rather than increasingly ephemeral content. How do I teach and encourage students to learn these skills through/despite prescribed and audited outcomes?
  2. how will I teach it? the rise of technology options has the potential to create a real paradigm shift in how we teach
  3. how will I know the students learnt it? again the answer lies in what content/skills/attitudes are important and what types of evidence “prove” these competencies have been achieved?

An increasing number of teachers are embracing new ways of delivering and assessing. “What I am seeing now is that almost every teacher I talk with is practising or in the process of implementing workplace learning and/or project-based and/or flexible or blended learning.” (V. Marchant, personal communication, October 22, 2008).

With an ageing workforce often battered by constant change,  “…. educators, when they are lacking in confidence about new delivery methods, tend to retreat to their comfort zone, which for most is face-to-face, lock-step teaching.  It’s a known quantity, it’s predictable in its results and the teacher feels in control of what’s happening.” (B. Thurlow, personal communication, October 22, 2008).

However, the system and its infrastructure can conspire to thwart the tide of change. “…. lots of resistance related to systems that won’t support the adapters and disincentives from management to get involved.” (A. Bowden personal communication, October 22, 2008).

Siemens (2008b) suggests “New technologies are not necessarily replace existing approaches; instead, they are enlarging the range of options for learners”. These options, for both learners and facilitators, can impact on how we teach (the learning spaces and their ecologies) and how we assess.

Potential roles of a VET Educator

Teachers are big on denial and avoidance. Many are hoping this technology stuff will go away or remain in the background until they retire. It may take a “cataclysmic externally-imposed change that will sweep away the old order..” (Martin Stewart-Weeks in response to Connell 2008). Perhaps the Australian Federal Government agenda will provide that impetus -like it or not.

Brennan’s research (2005 p. 5) into the pedagogical effectiveness of online delivery is very closely aligned to my understanding of connectivism. She found that the most effective practices engaged learners in:

  • constructivist (or should that be connectivist?) approaches which
  • develop cognitive skills through
  • high levels of interactivity between all participants to
  • encourage synthesis and analysis for
  • ‘deep learning’ involving
  • consistent levels of feedback by
  • teachers who are imaginative, flexible, technologically gymnastic, committed, responsible and expert communicators.”

“What could be” for the VET Educator

If the explanation of connectivism is that learning “consists of a network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community” (Downes, 2006) then the changing role of educators might be summarised in this diagram:

find-x

What could be:

  • learners always think critically about the information they encounter (Downes 2008). The conversation related to the “Find X” diagram in the “that was funny” website is fascinating
  • teachers think critically about their pedagogy and the way they use technology to fit their context. Downes (2008) asked “it would appear that web 2.0 is the salvation of education. But what are we basing that on?” What technologies could assist in determining what is “X”?
  • Smith and Blake (2005) challenge teachers to facilitate learning by creating an environment which emphasises the employability skills needed in industry such as problem solving, communication, collaboration and team work. Don’t tell the group what is “X”, rather pose a range of strategic questions and problems to determine more about “X”.

Pelz (2004) contributes three principles for effective pedagogy involving technology: let the students do (most of) the work, ensure interactivity (lots of connections) and strive for presence. It is the three elements of presence that most closely mirror the connectivism concepts:

  1. social presence: where the networks of people assist each other in a community of learning
  2. cognitive presence: where sense making and therefore meaning is established through the connections
  3. teaching presence: where the facilitator creates an environment supportive of these interactions and providing direct instruction when necessary.

The more the learner is engaged with the content, with the teacher as the “guide on the side”, the more learning occurs.

References:

Brennan, R. 2003, One size doesn’t fit all – Pedagogy in the online environment – Volume 1, viewed 22 Sept 2008, http://www.ncver.edu.au/research/proj/nr0F05_1.pdf

Connell, J. 2008, Teaching at the Crossroads, viewed 31 Oct 2008, http://www.johnconnell.co.uk/blog/?p=782

Downes, S. 2006, Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge, viewed 12 September 2008, http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper92/paper92.html

Downes, S. 2008, Wasted Time, viewed 3 November 2008, http://connect.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=44304

Pelz, B. 2004, (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy, viewed 20 Oct 2008 http://www.sloan-c-wiki.org/JALN/v8n3/pdf/v8n3_pelz.pdf

Richardson, T. 2008, How Web 2.0 has changed the face of education, BECTA, viewed 31 Oct 2008, http://www.nccmembership.co.uk/pooled/articles/BF_WEBART/view.asp?Q=BF_WEBART_305924

Siemens, G. 2008, New Structures and Spaces of Learning: the systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning, viewed 10 September 2008, http://elearnspace.org/Articles/systemic_impact.htm

Siemens, G. 2008, Social Networks the Next Educational Tool?, viewed 31 October 2008, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2008/10/31/social-networks-the-next-educational-tool/

Smith, P. & Blake, D. 2005, Facilitating Learning Through Effective Teaching, viewed 31 October 2008, http://www.ncver.edu.au/research/proj/nd3102d.pdf

Staron, M. 2008, Embedding Innovation – ‘chasms’ as barriers and opportunities, ICVET, viewed 31 Oct 2008, http://www.icvet.tafensw.edu.au/ezine/year_2008/may/article_innovation2.htm

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