Independent Thinkers For Life Long Learning Education Essay

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The idea of curriculum is hardly new - but the way we understand and theorize it has altered over the years - and there remains considerable dispute as to meaning. It has its origins in the running/chariot tracks of Greece. It was, literally, a course. In Latin curriculum was a racing chariot; currere was to run. A useful starting point for us here might be the definition offered by John Kerr and taken up by Vic Kelly in his standard work on the subject. Kerr defines curriculum as, 'All the learning which is planned and guided by the school, whether it is carried on in groups or individually, inside or outside the school. (Quoted in Kelly 1983: 10; Kelly 1999).

Critical pedagogy goes beyond situating the learning experience within the experience of the learner: it is a process which takes the experiences of both the learner and the teacher and, through dialogue and negotiation, recognizes them both as problematic...  [It] allows, indeed encourages, students and teachers together to confront the real problems of their existence and relationships... When students confront the real problems of their existence they will soon also be faced with their own oppression. (Grundy 1987: 105)

Use of computer aided design software in teaching of building and construction.

Prior to this study it was suspected that the trades were lagging in the take-up of e-learning. Given the benefits of e-learning, there was concern that this may be reducing training providers' ability in terms of meeting skills shortages, industry requirements and the needs of students in their desire to engage with the digital world. In investigating the teaching in building and construction and allied trades areas there was some evidence of teacher resistance to moving towards the adoption of an e-learning approach. This resistance was based on the perception of irrelevance to trade teaching, teachers' views on the non-acceptance of new modes by learners, and access issues. Some teachers had practical concerns about having to change their teaching approach and learn new skills. Some of these concerns were well founded, some not. Those keen to improve teaching and learning for students viewed these issues more as 'challenges' rather than barriers. Despite resistance in some quarters, we found a good deal of e-learning practice. Our findings have since been confirmed by the 2006 E-learning Benchmarking Project.2 The E-learning Benchmarking Project conducted a quantitative survey nationally to ascertain the extent of the e-learning up-take within the vocational and technical education (VTE) sector.

The benchmarking survey found 46% (nearly half) of the 155 organizations delivering training in traditional trades were using e-learning. Institutions, departments and teachers can see obvious benefits of e-learning as they discover innovative ways to adopt and adapt e-learning in the trade context, that provide positive benefits for their students and the training organization. We found examples of e-learning across the discipline areas of: furniture and joinery, carpentry, general construction, plumbing, painting and decorating, wet trades, stonemasonry, electrical and electro-technology. In some discipline areas there were fewer examples found, particularly in subject areas that have low student numbers, such as stonemasonry. In disciplines where there were many examples of e-learning, such as plumbing, electrical and the wood trades, there was either a teacher network in existence or a group of people facilitating the sharing of resources and ideas.

The adoption of e-learning tools did not radically change the way things were taught. Most e learning is conducted in a blended (classroom) environment. Trades teaching requires theory preparation, practical demonstration, followed by guided practice, then application - and the e-learning tools are used successfully in this context. Most impressive was the array of e-learning tools used by the trade teachers. These ranged from the use of large and reasonably complex learning management systems (LMS) to smaller tools found for no cost (open source) on the web. The growth in the number and variety of free, or near free software, has added significantly to the teachers' incentive and ability to experiment with and develop their own learning resources and assessment tools.

Implications for trade teaching practice

The introduction of e-learning into construction trades teaching has an impact on the way teaching is traditionally conducted. In this section, we explore the main implications.

There are four ways to view the teacher in e-learning - the teacher as producer, the teacher as instructor/mentor, the teacher as assessor and the teacher as learner.

Teacher as producer

The teacher as producer is responsible for the design and development of courseware for students. E-learning assumes a basic level of digital literacy, and this means a range of basic skills including using a computer with various software applications, digital cameras, LMS and digital story telling techniques. In most cases in this study, the teachers are not beginning from scratch in developing e-learning materials; they are re-using the (often) printed materials they have written already, and are either modifying them to fit the e-learning environment, or taking the opportunity to revitalize them. This may mean:

Modifying materials and integrating them into a PowerPoint display that teachers can use with a data projector in the classroom. This requires a degree of modification to reduce and repurpose the text, and at the same time, introduce photos, graphics, audio, videos and even animations.

Creating new materials based on traditional practices, which may be produced in the classroom (such as a video of a routine that is filmed as it is being demonstrated, then edited for future use) or digital storytelling, where photos are taken and scripts created.

In a number of cases, the current printed materials are used in combination with thee-learning materials; they are used to enhance and reinforce what is traditionally provided in the classroom. Demonstrating a building technique is a good example of this, where traditionally the students would have stood around the teacher watching him or her demonstrate physically the technique. This demonstration is a one-off. In the e-learning context, this demonstration may be provided on video, which allows many-time viewing and reinforces the one-off physical demonstration.

Not every teacher needs to be a producer if the production of courseware is collaborative. In this scenario, each teacher plays to their strengths, and if the materials are shared, then not every teacher has to know how to use everything. It may be that one teacher learns and becomes skilled at video production, whilst another at digital story telling or HTML, but the materials are shared between them.

This extends beyond the department, across the institute and the state/territory, or even nationally, where there are repositories of content available, essentially copyright free. In this case, it is important to adopt a 'learning object' model, where

Teacher as assessor

The area where e-learning has great benefits for teaching efficiency is in the teacher's role as assessor - both for record keeping and assessment.

The LMS is a primary tool used for both these purposes. Many have an inbuilt assessment tool that is relatively easy to learn and use. Some teachers are using assessment tools that are free. The advantage is that once the assessment quiz is set up, it can be used again and again, with varying methods to provide different questions extracted from a pool, or questions posed in a different order. The scoring is automatic (multiple choices).

As we noted in another section of this report, students are using these quizzes to drive their learning, and teachers are responding by structuring their courseware content around the assessment tool. Although it is not the only kind of assessment, in theoretical subjects it can be used very effectively. This electronic assessment substantially reduces teachers' time spent assessing students and recording their results.

This electronic record keeping is also being extended to competency checking, and has been trial led in some situations on site using a PDA.

Another aspect of assessment is student class attendance, and once again simple technologies such as the SMS mobile phone service can be very helpful.

Teacher as learner

There are two issues in teaching practice that can be obstacles to an e-learning approach - the older age profile of the VTE teaching profession and the massive casualisation of the teaching profession. In the first case, age is used as an argument by some to say that it is too late or too difficult to learn new digital techniques. We have attempted to counter this argument by showing that e-learning is more an adjunct to traditional teaching practices rather than a replacement. Secondly, collaborative teaching implies mentoring skills and sharing materials, so the onus to learn is not huge or isolated. It does take commitment though, and a willingness and open mind to learn. The casualisation of teaching presents different issues. As a casual teacher is paid only on student contact hours, they are more reluctant to share the resources they have created in their own non-paid time, and therefore quite legitimately claim as their own intellectual property. Secondly, they can't always attend professional development sessions, again as these are non-paid times. Their recruitment is therefore on the basis that they already have digital skills, which may be the case if they are younger, and they are reliant on already available courseware. If this is the case, we now have a window of opportunity to produce the shared materials and skills in e-learning before the older teacher practitioners leave, taking their knowledge and skills with them.

Resources therefore need to be deliberately targeted at the new casual teacher, and this is one of the reasons that the Learn Scope project has been so successful. It funds the teacher time to learn and produce shared skills, knowledge and courseware content. These are programs that foster teacher skills in e-learning and will help shift its adoption from the margins to the mainstream.

Teacher as facilitator/mentor

Most e-learning teaching is conducted in a 'blended' classroom context. Trade teachers in this study have opted for this method, finding that it is preferred both by them and by the students (although this does not preclude the student from accessing the digital content outside the classroom context). For teachers, it is a matter of integrating digital content into their traditional classroom teaching, rather than teaching in a completely virtual context (which requires a higher level of digital understanding).

At a minimum, teachers will need to be proficient with a digital data projector and a computer linked to the internet, and/or computer software where this is part of the teaching content (e.g. AutoCAD 3D, Excel). Depending on the e-learning tools being available, and the teachers' willingness to use them, this list may be extended to include an interactive whiteboard, video conferencing and webinars. Team teaching is a successful model, where one teacher is the demonstrator/instructor and another, the student mentor; or where one teacher is the practical skills instructor, and the other the e-learning theory teacher. Team teaching again is a way of minimizing the need for all teachers in a department to learn all the digital technology skills and e-learning tools.

In another case (TAFE SA), this relationship has been taken a step further, where one teacher is the mentor teaching the digital skills to another teacher in the classroom, and the second teacher will take over these teaching responsibilities at a later stage.

As indicated throughout this report, the range of e-learning technologies is now very broad, more accessible, and many of the tools are free. One of the most powerful technologies in use by the trades is the video. Not only is video production becoming a more viable and effective option to support many aspects of teaching and learning, but we are witnessing interesting changes occurring as teachers explore different teaching scenarios. For example, where the student becomes the producer - students do the scripting and/or videoing rather than the teacher.

There are likely to be even further changes to teaching as the potential of such technologies is explored. For example, some teachers are beginning to explore the transportability of learning resources, and flexibility options with regard to when and where learning occurs. For example, exploring ways of devising or converting learning material to mobile documents that can be loaded on the iPod or PDA or some other portable device so that students can access and interact with the learning resource (or instructor) anywhere and not be restricted to the library or classroom.

Mobile technologies have the potential to open up more opportunities and learning options for both on and off-site learning, assessment and student management, than thought possible a few years ago.

However, we are only scratching the surface in our understanding and use of some of the newer technologies. For example, the technologies that comes under the popular headings of 'social' or 'Web 2.0 technologies' such as wikis or blogs. These can change teaching practice radically, or just modify what we do, depending on the