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Moving out of the classroom and into the workplace

Wide Bay Institute of TAFE (WBIT) is a leading example of best practice in quality, equity and innovation in VET. These three elements are demonstrated through the Institute’s effective approach to blended learning, the engagement of learners geographically dispersed across a wide region, and the effective use of innovative online technologies and e-learning strategies to support workplace learning and remote students.

An Exemplar of Quality, Equity and Innovation: Wide Bay Institute of TAFE

From left - Nicole Shang and Tracie regan

From left - Nicole Shang and Tracie Regan

With three universities now in the region, there is an increased choice for students to obtain a qualification. This situation presents a greater opportunity for the Institute to partner with the universities, particularly in the area of Health and Community Services.

Institute Director, Ana Rodger, believes that the biggest challenge to attracting students is getting the message out to people in the community that there are now many flexible pathways and learning options available to them at TAFE.

“We have to get beyond bricks and mortar“, says Ms Rodger.

“Having a student population dispersed across a wide area requires that our trainers have to get out to the people themselves if they are to effectively engage and raise the level of qualifications and skills in these regions.

“Engaging innovative e-learning technologies is a key focus of our teaching and learning strategy and presents a real solution. For us, e-learning is about sustainability based on where we are geographically,” says Ms Rodger.

With staff spread across four main campuses - Bundaberg, Gympie, Hervey Bay and Maryborough - our trainers have a high degree of latitude and flexibility in terms of the platform which they choose to deliver e-learning. All trainers are now expected to introduce engage some form of e-learning technology in delivering programs even at the Certificate I and II levels.

A further challenge is reflected in recent demographic indicators which reveal stark combination of low skill levels and high unemployment across the Wide Bay region. Faced with socio-economic reality, Ms Rodger and her team have set a target to lift base level of qualifications to Certificate IV.

Innovation the key to successful industry partnerships

Wide Bay Institute

Front row from left - Brad Faint, Denise Morgan, Hannu Konttinen
Back row from left - Greg Reed, Jody Ridgeway, Ana Rodger and Helen Leeson

Five years ago WBIT decided to move out of the classroom and offer a 100% online training program for workers in the Queensland water industry.

From the first intake of 25 SunWater trainees in 2005, the program has now gone on to win national honours at the recent Australian TAFE Marketing Association (ATMA) conference in Sydney as a case study in business innovation.

The training delivers nationally recognised qualifications in water, bulk water and wastewater management with all the learning and assessment materials available online.

WBIT Program Co-ordinator, Tracie Regan, says it is wonderful to receive recognition for what is still Australia's only fully online vocational learning program offering adult water industry qualifications.

"The online program is designed for practitioners widely dispersed throughout rural and remote parts of Queensland and it has brought huge savings for water operators who no longer have to transport their staff to training venues," Ms Regan said.

"Our challenge was to keep mature age students motivated and committed to on-the-job training when they could only engage with their trainers online.

"We decided technology was the ideal solution so we created features like the online chat room, forums and instant messaging plus a coffee shop to help students develop social networking within their virtual community."

Ms Regan says that because operators in the water industry are, for the most part, long-term employees with experience in their field, the training resources are interactive.

"We engage the student's interest through 'click here', 'try this quiz to check your knowledge' or 'visit this website’ activities'."

Ms Regan acknowledges the collaboration from SunWater (Queensland’s largest bulk water distributor) and Wide Bay Water Corporation, which provides student assessors in designing and delivering the program.

"This training partnership, with operators who know the business of water management and appreciate the importance of on-the-job training, is a critical ingredient in the program’s success," Ms Regan says.

“When training adults in the workplace through online and e-learning technologies, it is important to understand that adults like to do things, they like to be self-paced, however, they do not like to do it all on their own.

“The teaching therefore needs to be of a much higher standard to communicate and understand the technology.”

A further factor in Wide Bay’s success is its open approach to ‘blended learning’. Learners can choose to do their training via various modes of delivery including on-campus, off-campus (distance), online or a combination of all three.

In terms of engaging innovative learning technologies, the Institute’s Manager for Teaching and Learning Innovation, Denise Morgan, is constantly looking to trial new technologies and e-learning tools. Ms Morgan also credits generic Toolboxes as effective e-learning tools in WBIT’s teaching and learning strategy.

“Flexible Learning Toolboxes (Toolboxes) are important in this mix –they are high quality, cost effective products featuring scenarios, images and interactive activities that simulate real life. They are designed for use by training providers, industry and business,” says Ms Morgan.

The Institute’s Acting Director, Education and Training, Helen Leeson, supports this endeavour, reinforcing the need to be always looking for new and effective e-learning tools to support online delivery.

 “The Institute is currently trialing a range of new technologies including point of view glasses, in line with its focus on increasing the use of e-learning for RPL (recognition of prior learning), says Ms Leeson.

WBIT’s flexible learning capability is made possible through an online learning management system which provides a collaborative and interactive learning environment to facilitate training delivery. The system is fully supported by staff based at WBIT’s central administration unit located at the main campus in Maryborough.

One important member of this team is Learning Technologies Coordinator, Nicole Shang. Ms Shang ensures that the quality, consistency and efficiency of training are maintained through the online learning system, and that learners are provided with all the support they need.

Print this page | last updated: 22 Mar 2011 5:59pm