Case study: Education Support a Pathway to Teaching
Victoria June 2013
GippsTAFE

The digital story (below) has also been developed by the project team to give you more information about the project.




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This case study was developed by GippsTAFE with funding and support from the national training system’s e-learning strategy, the National VET E-learning Strategy (Strategy). The Strategy provides the VET system with the essential e-learning infrastructure and expertise needed to respond to the challenges of a modern economy and the training needs of Australian businesses and workers.

1.1 The Team

The lead organisation for this project is Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE (otherwise known as GippsTAFE) GippsTAFE is situated in Gippsland, south east of Melbourne, Victoria and is made up of six campuses each with a unique focus that is tailored to the community that campus serves. Five campuses are located in regional areas and one is in metropolitan Melbourne. In addition to its Australian operations, GippsTAFE is active within the international arena where it is involved in the delivery of training programs in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Malaysia.

GippsTAFE provides technical and vocational education offering a diverse suite of programs, using a range of different delivery strategies, all designed to meet the expectations and needs of the community and businesses of the region.

1.2 Knowledge and experience

GippsTAFE is a renowned user of e-learning technologies and blended delivery methods. Educational programs use the learning environment that is best suited to the needs of the particular course and student cohort. The organisation is student focussed and committed to creating an environment that challenges and inspires learning.

GippsTAFE’s commitment to developing flexible educational solutions is shown by the existence of the GippsTAFE Innovation Department. This department manages and maintains GippsTAFE’s e-learning infrastructure and has a long history of working closely with teachers to collaboratively design innovative e-learning solutions. Their highly qualified and experienced personnel work closely with GippsTAFE teaching departments to introduce innovative practices and provide support for teachers as they become familiar with new technologies.

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2.1 Aim

The aim of this project was to develop an innovative educational program for students undertaking a qualification in Education Support.

A pathway has been developed that allows students who complete the Diploma in Education Support to progress to a degree in primary education at Monash University. Learners commence their training at Certificate III, Certificate IV or Diploma level depending on their individual level of experience. Once they complete the Diploma they are eligible to move onto the university degree via this pathway.

Click here to hear about the experiences of one student.

Previously this training was delivered via a distance education model using paper based workbooks and some students reported a feeling of isolation during their training. With this in mind trainers at GippsTAFE were keen to develop a more engaging model of delivery with an emphasis on online community. The program was based in Moodle and included the use of online discussion and reflective blogs. The teachers were actively involved in the online program providing the students with support and guidance to ensure they had a valuable learning experience.

2.2 Objective

The key objective of this project was to develop a program that would be more engaging for students and improve their educational outcomes.

We believed that the development of an online community would give students the opportunity to interact with and learn from each other. This project used a number of strategies to achieve this.
  • The online program was structured to include an orientation period to introduce the students to the online platform and each other.
  • Online discussion forums were used for at least half of the online activities to give the student the opportunity to learn from each other.
  • Students were encouraged to reflect on their experiences in the course blog. It was hoped that this would better prepare the students for a university education.

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3.1 Starting the project

There were several phases in the early stages of this project.

Staff training

A workshop was held to train the Education Support teachers in the use of Moodle. After an introductory demonstration covering the basic features of Moodle the teachers were instructed on how to add resources to a Moodle course and how to create activities.

A group discussion identified units of competency from the Education Support course that could be targeted as part of this online program and each teacher chose one of these target units to work on. Their challenge was to develop four online activities for each unit and set them up in a Moodle course. As a reference they had the paper-based workbook for their chosen unit.

Initially the teachers found themselves trying to directly convert existing workbook type activities to an online format. While this gave the teachers practice in the use of Moodle they were unhappy with the result as the activities were not making the most of the online opportunity. Further discussion led the teachers to the understanding that the online activities needed to take advantage of the collaborative features of Moodle to allow students the opportunity to interact with and learn from each other. With this in mind it was decided that at least two of the four activities should be online discussion forums to give students the opportunity to share their experiences and knowledge with each other.

Developing the program

Following initial enrolments we reviewed the student cohort for 2013. As there were good numbers of students enrolling at the Certificate IV level it was decided to choose units from this course to target for the project. The units chosen were:
  • CHCEDS408A Support Students’ Mathematics Learning for Numeracy
  • CHCEDS409A Support Students’ Literacy Learning
  • CHCEDS312A Work With Diversity in the Education Environment

These units were chosen because we felt the content would be interesting and engaging when offered online.
We also felt that these units allowed us scope to setup a variety of activities.

While there would be some information provided for students to read through it was expected that most of the learning would come from participation in the online discussions and the research that students would need to undertake and complete the other activities. It was hoped that the students would learn from each other.

Once we had decided on these units the teachers developed the information and activities that would be setup for each unit. Liaison with the Innovation Department led to some changes to the suggested activities in order to broaden the scope of the activities and make full use of the collaborative aspects of learning online.

A fourth Moodle course would be used as a communication and orientation hub for the whole course. The purpose of this hub was to provide:
  • The opportunity for students and teachers to communicate with each other
  • A place where information about the course could be made available
  • Activities to introduce the students to online learning

At this point it was decided to offer the three online units to all students from the Education Support courses who were enrolled in the units. This would increase the number of students who could take advantage of the opportunity to complete the units online rather than via a workbook and explore a good model for future programs.

Delivery strategy

An important feature of the deliver strategy was the inclusion of an orientation week prior to the start of the delivery of the units. This orientation week would provide the learners with the time and opportunity to access the online platform where they would find simple online activities to introduce them to some of the tools they would use as part of the online program.

Each unit was to be delivered over a two week period and individuals could undertake the online activities at any time during the two weeks. As half the online activities were forum based it would be important that students make their contributions during the specified time to ensure a lively and vibrant discussion occurred giving students the opportunity to share their experiences and ideas and learn from each other.

One teacher was to be responsible for facilitating each unit with all teachers being involved in the orientation period. The teacher would need to send out announcements, facilitate the discussion forums and provide feedback to students on assignment based activities. This active participation by the teacher was an important aspect of the delivery strategy and we expected it would contribute to the overall success of the program.

Click here to see a sample facilitation schedule.

A timetable was set up outlining the dates over which each unit would operate and due dates were set for all activities.

Another advantage of this timetabling was the impact on the teacher workload. Each teacher realised they would need to set aside time during the two weeks of their unit to undertake the online facilitation but once the unit was finished their commitment to that unit would be complete.

In order to complete each unit the learners must satisfactorily finish the four learning activities for the unit. In addition learners will develop an individual learning plan for each unit highlighting their individual goals and achievements. This activity will give them the opportunity to reflect on their learning journey. Learners will be encouraged to share this information by making postings in the course blog.

Setting up the course

Moodle was used to deliver this training and members of the Innovation Department were responsible for setting up the online units ensuring consistency of appearance and layout across the three units. Each unit included some theory based information for learners to read through but it was expected that much of the learning would occur through the students’ own research as they complete the four online activities for each unit. Two of the online activities for each unit are discussion based forum activities and these will give learners the opportunity to learn from each other as they would in a classroom based program.

Where possible, images were used to enhance the appearance of the activities.

Links to relevant GippsTAFE Online Learning Help Guides were provided in each unit to help students use the necessary Moodle tools.

Teacher contact details were also included in each unit so the students could easily see who they needed to contact if they had any question or problems.

Click here to see some sample online activities

3.2 Running the project

Introducing the students

Students were contacted to advise them that this online program was being offered. They were then sent login details and instructions.

The orientation week was a key aspect of this program. It gave students the opportunity to login and get used to the online space where they had some simple activities to complete. The teachers supported and encouraged the students by answering questions and responding to contributions to the forum activities.

During this time the teachers monitored who was logging in and contacted students who had not logged in to encourage them to make a start. The theory behind this is that once the program starts all students will be ready to start their real learning rather than still be working out what their username and password is.

Put the Orientation Week Video Here

Announcements were used to raise awareness of the activities and encourage students to participate.

Mentoring teachers

Another important aspect to this project was the mentoring of teachers. A member of the Innovation Department with experience in the use of Moodle and online facilitation met with teachers each week throughout the teaching phase of the program to explain how to use the online tools as well as discuss various ways to respond to specific issues.

Teachers were encouraged to post announcements regularly and to respond to student contributions promptly.

Strategies were discussed around how to encourage students to demonstrate that they had the appropriate level of understanding to demonstrate competency. For example in order to complete discussion forum tasks students had to create one topic and respond to the postings of two other students. We wanted the responses to add something to promote further discussion so the course information explained that “Good idea” or “I agree” was not a sufficient response. Teachers encouraged this by modelling expected behaviour in their own responses. There were one or two students who did not initially understand what was required and in these cases the teacher contacted the student directly to discuss this and encourage greater participation.

Other issues that arose were how to keep the discussion focussed on the actual topic and how to manage the balance between students sharing appropriate experiences without the discussion becoming too personal.

Monitoring student progress

A configurable report was used in Moodle to provide a summary of each student’s activity online as a whole and in each unit. This proved to be a more convenient way to monitor participation than Moodle logs. The student activity report showed which students were logging in and how many contributions they were making. The teachers used this report to identify students who were taking an interest in the online opportunity but had not yet begun to make any contributions. These students were contacted personally to find out if they were having any problems and to encourage them to actively participate.
The Grader report was another useful tool for the teachers. Each activity was marked out of 20 so a study of this report showed which students had completed which activity. As the time for each unit drew to a close the teacher would then contact students who had work outstanding to remind them of this and encourage them to complete.

Managing teacher workload

Managing teacher work load is always a difficult issue especially when, as in this program, teachers were being asked to do things differently and develop new skills.
The most useful strategy that we used here was to assign each unit to a particular teacher. That teacher was then solely responsible for monitoring and facilitating the discussions for their unit and for providing feedback and marking the assignments. Using this strategy the teachers knew that they were responsible for all the online activity in their unit and, as this was timetabled to occur over a specific two week period, they could adjust other commitments accordingly. Given that all teachers have a busy schedule we felt it was unnecessary to have more than one teacher active within each unit.
Timetabling also helped with the teacher workload because it meant most of the work for each unit occurred within the period timetabled for the unit.

We made the most of Moodle features such as:
  • Turning on forum tracking so that teachers and students could easily see where new posts had occurred
  • Editing the teachers’ profile so they received notifications about forum postings in a digest rather than one at a time
  • Setting up assignments to send notifications when students submit

Keeping the momentum going

The teachers used announcements within the units to remind students to participate and when necessary these were followed up with individual emails and phone calls. There was a break in the program over the Easter Term holidays and after this break it was necessary for the teacher to use these strategies to refocus the students and rekindle their enthusiasm.

Having the teachers responding promptly to student activity and questions in an encouraging way certainly contributes to keeping up the level of student interest.

The students also make their own contribution to this process; the more posts they make in the forums means there is more for other students to read and respond to, leading to more activity. For some forum activities the teachers observed that there was very valuable discussion and learning demonstrated with little input from themselves.

3.3 Wrapping up the project
The Teachers

The most obvious result of the project was the increase in skills and confidence for the teachers delivering the training. One of the teachers had never been involved with teaching online before so it was pleasing to watch the development of her skills and confidence throughout the time of project.
Teachers are busy people and funding cuts have increased the pressure on them so it was very important to manage their work loads and implement time saving measures. It was also vital for them to be well supported with technical and administrative assistance. The Innovation Department made sure the units were set out efficiently with help documents and course and unit codes on activities to help satisfy audit requirements. The LMS administrator created student logins and ensured students were enrolled in the appropriate units at the appropriate times.
We also developed a delivery strategy outlining when announcements should be made and how the activities should be assessed. This meant teachers knew what they had to do and when.
The trial was successful and we feel the strategies could be used again for this course or, with modifications, for other courses. Our experiences while undertaking this project will be shared with the greater GippsTAFE teaching community via a webinar later in the year.

Click here to read some reflection by teacher Wendy Rutjens

The Students

In this project the online program was a pilot and did not involve all students in all the courses. Some students were reluctant to take part in the online program and opted to complete the units via the traditional workbook. However we think that in the future there would be even greater success if the online program was an integrated part of the course. Certain units could be timetabled to be delivered online in such a way that all students from all courses in this area of study could be involved. If there were sufficient enrolments, units could even be offered in both semester one and semester two to provide students with greater flexibility.
If this strategy was adopted the course handbook could include information about the benefits of the online program including the opportunity for students to interact with and learn from each other in the online space and the development of increased technical skills as well as the opportunity to undertake their training using a more innovative way. We believe these strategies would lead to greater participation in the online units.
We were pleased with the level of work the students submitted; it was particularly pleasing to see how their reflective process developed over the program.
Click the links below to read the reflections from two students.
Student One

Student Two

Sharing the Learning

The results of this project will be shared with the Education Support Course team as a whole and it is hoped that further units will be offered using this model in the future.
The Innovation Department will conduct a webinar to showcase this learning to other staff across the GippsTAFE and share the experience that has been gained.
The project has also been featured on GippsTAFE Innovation Blog as a way of sharing this learning with the wider educational community.

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4.1 Main project outcomes

The major outcome from this project was that an innovative program was developed that substituted workbook focussed learning with interactive online learning. A key feature of the program was the orientation week which allowed the students the opportunity to explore the online space and become familiar with using some of the online tools. During this time the teachers and students introduced themselves to each other and a sense of community began to develop.
Prior to this project most of the students were working on their own so while they were in communication with their teachers they did not have the opportunity to interact with each other. We believe that this is one of the most important advantages that this type of program offers to off campus students.

While participating in this program the teachers developed new skills and confidence in the use of online teaching technologies and online facilitation skills. These skills will assist them to develop and conduct programs in the future.

Seventeen students participated in the innovative online program and of these 13 completed at least one of the units of competency. Twelve completed all the units that they were enrolled in. Because the students were drawn from three different courses the number of units they were enrolled in varied from one to three.

This combining of students from different courses was something that was not included in the original project proposal but it is pleasing to report that this proved to be very successful and provides a model for future efficiency at GippsTAFE.

As well as completing units of competency that contributed to their course as a whole students developed online skills and confidence and had the opportunity to interact with and learn from each other. They also had the opportunity to observe and participate in online learning which may assist them in their role as education support workers

A further outcome was that students participated in learning activities designed to appeal to a range of learning styles rather than the workbook activities which have a reading/writing focus.


4.2 How the outcomes were measured

The outcomes of the project were measured using reports from Moodle. These reports showed:

  • which students participated in each unit
  • how long they spent online in each unit
  • how many activities they looked at
  • how many contributions they made
  • how many activities they successfully completed
  • which students completed which units

Along with these reports discussion with the teachers provided more subjective information such as the quality of student contribution and how well each of the online activities and the units as a whole functioned.

Feedback was also sought from the students who reported that they enjoyed the program as well as making some suggestions for improvement.

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5.1 Key successes

The first success was the use of the online orientation week with specific orientation activities. This period ensured both the students had time to familiarise themselves with the online platform before the actual online units began. This period was also a useful lead in for the teachers, especially the one who had not been involved in online teaching previously.

One on one mentoring for the teachers was another key success of this program. Teachers had weekly meetings with their mentor during the delivery phase of the program during which they received instruction on how to use the online tools and could discuss strategies to help them facilitate the discussion.

The delivery model including the timetable and teacher facilitation strategy ensured both teachers and students knew what they were supposed to be doing and when. This delivery model requires the teachers to be present and active in the online space to support and encourage the students as they learn.

The activities that were developed for each unit were designed to engage students with a range of learning styles. At least half of the activities were discussion forum activities that gave students the opportunity to learn from each other.

Many of the activities required the students to reflect on their learning and this helped them develop skills they will find valuable when they move on to the university degree course.

5.2 Suggested improvements

Better communication with students in initial phase of their enrolment to explain that there will be an online component to their educational program would greatly improve the way the program runs. Students would then be aware of what they would need to do to participate and demonstrate competency in the online units.

It would be efficient to have an integrated program with set units delivered online rather than via the work book. The timetable could then be set up to allocate time for this to ensure the workload is manageable for both teachers and students.

Some units are more suited to online delivery than others. The units in this pilot program were chosen because they occurred in more than one course, so the number of students who could take part was maximised. On reflection, the units most suited to this mode of delivery would be units that are not tied to a specific curriculum area like mathematics, rather a more open-ended unit like “Fostering Creative and Aesthetic Development”. By offering a less specific unit the students can bring a greater range of experience and viewpoints to the discussions, thereby providing richer learning opportunities for all.

The workload for teachers and students would be better managed if there was a week break between each of the online units to allow students to finalise tasks and teachers to finalise marking before the next unit begins.

It would be a good idea for teachers to finish up discussion forum activities with a posting that summarised the topic and highlighted the learning that occurred during the activity. This would help students understand the purpose of each activity and ensure the learning objectives were reached.

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6.1 Knowledge Transfer

This project was a voyage of discovery for all. Here is a summary of our findings.

The Education Support online program provided students with an innovative alternative to traditional paper-based workbooks. Students enjoyed the opportunity to interact with each other in the online space and found that participating in the discussion forum activities allowed them to learn from each other.

The online activities that were set up allowed students to explore the topics in a variety of ways; students were encouraged to use the internet to search for content and examples to share with the group as well as reflect on their own experiences. This variety ensured students with different learning styles were engaged by the program and provided scaffolding for them to move their learning to a higher level.

The teachers involved also found that the program enjoyable. They liked interacting with the students online and enjoyed reading and assessing the wide variety of responses to each of the learning activities.

This model could provide efficiencies for GippsTAFE by combining students from different courses who are studying common units of competency.

6.2 Mentorship

We have created this list of tips for other organisations and teachers who may wish to run a program similar to this. Here they are:
The delivery model could be adapted to a range of courses and teaching situations.

  • Work out a facilitation plan for the teachers so they know what to do and when, this can include when to post announcements and when to contact students who are falling behind.
  • Start the move to online learning by targeting specific units of competency from a course, set these up online then add more units as the teachers develop the necessary skills and have time available.
  • Spend time and energy fostering the development of an online community.
  • Include an orientation period/week.
  • Support teachers by having regular meetings with a mentor experienced in the area of online delivery. (In this project this was a member of the GippsTAFE Innovation Department).
  • Set up an electronic spread sheet with student names and contact details to facilitate group e-mails and efficient communication. (This was used for all sorts of purposes not just for the online group. It is a practice that will be continued in the future).
  • Provide an Online Communication Hub as a way for students to communicate and support each other.
  • Combine groups of students when units of competency are used in several courses.
  • Take the time to develop clear and simple instructions for each activity.

Resources

The following are sample activities for teachers use as well as a sample facilitation schedule to assist & support teachers:











The following are reflections from 2 of the students and 1 of the teachers involved in the Project:











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For more information on the project:
Lynn Huguenin
Innovation Department Project Officer
GippsTAFE
Phone: 03 5622 8546
Email: lynnh@gippstafe.edu.au

For more information on the National VET E-learning Strategy:
Email: flag_enquiries@natese.gov.au
Website: http://flexiblelearning.net.au