Switched On

The ICVET (TAFE NSW International Centre for VET Teaching and Learning) 2006 conference was themed “Switched on to work”, and I certainly was switched on by the ideas I picked-up. There were showcases to view, workshops to attend, and the opportunity to network.

The opening address was given by Marie Persson, the first female Deputy Director-General-TAFE and Community Education in TAFE’s 115-year history. Marie spoke about misconceptions held about TAFE NSW, and explained we are actually good at reducing costs, awarding RPL, delivering eLearning, creating commercial earnings, helping employers meet skills shortages, devolving decision-making, and meeting the needs of a wide range of people. She also explained how we need to work on future needs : offering workplace delivery, translating industry training needs into quality client-focused delivery, offering training and assessment when and where industry requests it, encouraging staff to keep their industry knowledge current, and being able to meet the challenges of new technology.

The first workshop I attended was called “Digital treasure hunt”. This session dealt with handling the “tsunami of information” we face in this information age. The presenter suggested using maps to identify the valuable nuggets of information one needs to access later. Several of the participants said they used Wikis to share information with and between students.

My second workshop was given by two TAFE teachers who have been teaching the Tourism Advanced Diploma in China. I learned that education is highly regarded in that country, with parents spending up to half of their income on their child’s education. I also heard how things are done a little differently in Chinese classrooms, such as students rarely give answers to a question unless the teacher asks them directly, assessment is exam-based and not competency-based, and in group projects the workload is shared by assigning a specific role to team members (such as “person who gives the presentation” or “person who draws the graphics”) instead of everyone having input at every stage. The students work very hard : after our TAFE teachers have taught for six hours and are finished for the day the students have more classes with other teachers. We also had a giggle over how some of the assignments the teachers wrote in English made no sense when translated into the student’s language.

The final presentation I attended was about how a CD-ROM learning resource for hospitality was made. The teachers were each given a module to work on, other concerned parties such as the bookshop and library were consulted, and the information was improved until it was ready for students to use.

The rest of my day was spent hovering around the Showcases of Excellence. I learned about blended learning, student associations, traineeships, assessment, and staff inductions, amongst other things. Of course, being a librarian my favourite showcase was the TAFE Libraries’ stand. I got to play with NetLibrary and Safari Tech Books Online, and take a test drive of the New England Institute’s IT Passport.

One of the last things one expects to happen at a conference about education is to get teary-eyed. I was moved by the story of the breast cancer survivors who attended TAFE to learn how to make a Dragon Boat. When these ladies started all they knew about powertools was that they could be found in their partners’ sheds. Now they can use a wide range, and even have favourites. They also learned how to paddle the boat, and took it down the river to show it wasn’t going to sink.

One of the main points I took away from the conference was that a lot of interesting things are going on out in the institutes, and we need to make sure that knowledge is shared.

Jane Lally.