Friday, November 28, 2008

Whakakotahi: Communities of Practice , West Coast Tertiary teaching & learning conference

Yesterday afternoon, I travelled across to the West Coast to present a workshop at the inaugural West Coast Tertiary Teaching & Learning Regional Conference sponsored by Ako Aotearoa & Tai Poutini Polytechnic.

I was teaching all day yesterday so just managed to catch the opening of the conference that evening which featured a powhiri followed by welcomes from Russell Nimmo, chair of the West Coast Tertiary Education Forum, Dr. Peter Coolbear who is Director of Ako Aotearoa & Geoff Knight, ex- motorcycle gang member turned opera singer. Dr Coolbear introduced the audience to the work that Ako Aotearoa is taking on to improve the educational outcomes for all learners through. This is accomplished by the dissemination of funds to further research in the tertiary sector and providing opportunities for the building of communities of practices. Geoff Knight performed two opera pieces and gave a very inspirational, well delivered and thought provoking presentation. In particular, he was lucky to come across key mentors and supporters at crucial times of his life & these provided impetus & support for him to develop his gift.

The conference is a wonderful initiative to provide professional development to tertiary teachers based on the West Coast of New Zealand. A beautiful area which has a low population spread along 600 kilometres.

This morning started off with a keynote from Dr. Marion Bowl, from the University of Canterbury who spoke on communities of practice (COPs) & how the concept could be useful for both the formal & informal tertiary sectors of the West Coast. She also covered the factors that hinder or inhibit the formation and continuation of COPs, the supporting factors that encourage COPs to form & grow in organisations & at a local level eg. Buller ACE sub-network.
Workshops followed on a range of topics. I presented one, so only able to attend one by Peter McRae from Tai Poutinit about developing a programme beyond unit standards. Feedback from employers in the civil plant industry was that skills, knowledge & licencing were important but attitude was the most important. Therefore work attitudes need to be integrated into pre-trade programmes.

The after lunch keynote was from Dr. Tony Barrett (ex-Lincoln University) on how the social nature of learning shapes our student’s identity and ability to build knowledge. Activity, learning & identity are interlinked. Social activities are part of learning and becoming. COPs are easier to analyse than to describe ie COP formation is organic & based on the context, social organisation etc from which they evolve therefore to impose rules on how they form, stops them from forming in the first place. A good overview of the concepts of COPs including the need to offer authentic learning experiences, the roles of learners in COPs & the need to identify processes important to the understanding a concept and then making them visible to the learner.

A plenary panel session with Dr.Coolbear, Dr. Barrett, Dr. Bowl & Dr. Sheila Granger (principal of Buller High School) on learning as a social process followed afternoon tea. This consisted of questions collected from the audience & answered by members of the panel. Most of the questions were on the concepts for COPs, how to involve more people, keep the COP going, ignite passion for learning etc. The discussion moved across to the role of technology in supporting COPs & the ways in which technology may be used to better connect with learners. There was also a need for institutions to provide support to staff who are working on projects that have goals of improving learner outcomes. Suggestions for future conferences included having more students attending / presenting & looking at other models for structuring / organising a conference.

A successful conference was then closed by Marja Kneepkins who is the campus manager for Tai Poutinit Polytechnic (Westport campus) who provided a personal summary. A poropororaki then officially closed the conference.

No comments: