Monday, April 30, 2018

AVETRA Practitioner Research Conference DAY 2

Day dawns cool and cloudy and begins with official opening of this year’s conference. Linda Simon, conference coordinator welcomes participants. Robin Shreeve, new AVETRA president extended welcome and also provided context to the conference with an overview of current challenges. Although govt. seeks to increase education in areas of skills shortage and encourage school leavers to investigate non university tertiary education, funding for VET has never been lower.

The sessions begins with a keynote from Jose Luis Fernandez Maure, head of the institute of innovation and applied research for vocational education and training in the Basque Country (population of just over 2 million). Jose speaks on the challenge and potential for VET practitioner research. Began with a summary of the institute - Tknika. Explained challenges in mid 2000s leading to formation of Tknika, in particular the need to equalise quality of VEt trainina across all VEt institutes, some of which were excellent but some still requiring extension. At Tknika, 250 teachers work half their time there and half their time in their colleges to support innovation. The main objective is to reduce the skill gap quickly, so innovations ( pedagogy, technology, discipline specific) and future skill needs are met. Detailed the distributed model used to extend professional development across the sector. Main fields are in biosciences, energy and advanced manufacturing. Provided case study and examples of projects.  Detailed a project to encourage micro enterprises with support to students, teacher training to support the entrepreneurial process, support to create companies and a company network to leverage collaboration and networking. Teachers have masters qualification in teaching. 
Vet organisational changes include self managed teams of teachers, modular curriculum, flexibility of skills across occupations and skills assessments based on development of students to be able to continually learn. Challenges based collaborative learning frames pedagogy. This requires flexible timetables and learning spaces to allow for reconfiguration as the challenge base learning requires. Student learning is centred around being able to complete the challenge. 
Requires a whole system change to put in place and results may take a decade to realise. A key is to ensure all the institutes network to share practice and innovations to accelerate the impact. Collaborative work across institutions important, for example, culinary colleges working with agricultural colleges, for produce and waste to compost.

After morning tea, I chair three 45 minute presentations on the theme of VET teaching.

First up, Dr. Lesley Petersen from Tauranga who runs Petersen Consulting on Developing communities of practice as a pedagogy support mechanism for VET tutors. Began with a context of her work, especially with private training (PTEs) and industry training organisations (ITOs) and the objectives of the project with tutors teaching foundation skills at a PTE. She investigated how a Community of Practice (COP) provide space for tutors to develop pedagogical practice. Based on previous work on signature pedagogies involving 3 PTEs using a blended and action research methodology. Summarised details of the approaches and logistics of engaging with the tutors across the six months of the project. 4 meetings across 4 months with tutors trialling and implementing strategies to support student achievement between meetings. After workshops, evaluative process included minutes of each meeting, mid point online survey, summative interviews at conclusion. 
Influences on the success of the COP in this particular context included: training workshop at beginning important to build trust and purpose; place and space provided to share and collaborate; prompted critical reflection on teaching practice; peer mentoring; designated facilitator. Summarised challenges and implications. Recommendations also shared as PTE continued the COP. 

Second up are Anne Deshepper and Denise Stevens from Deschepper Consulting on Good practice in teaching and learning - the practitioners’ perspective. The evidence base comes from a project for the Victorian Departure of Education (2016) which led to production of a good practice guide (2018). Denise began with background and context. Guide is about to be published and free. Report involved literature review of VEt quality reports from Australia. UK, NZ and Ontario, interviews with practitioners and draft framework. Guide constructed after consultation across sector and variety of providers and validation of framework.
Four factors anchor the framework and described minimum, good and excellent teaching and learning. The factors include currency of specialist discipline knowledge / professional educator indicators, programme development, programme delivery and review of programme. Detailed an example and explained the various practice perspectives of a subset of one indicator. Discussed some ways to implement the guide. 

Then, Dr. Sonal Nakar on Impact of ethical dilemmas on VET teacher well-being. Started with background and rationale for work. Defined dilemmas as used in the project which also included actions following having to face moral based decisions. Defined four types of dilemmas - responding flexibly to increased student diversity, limiting educational engagement, constrains on teacher responsiveness and manipulation of learning assessments. Reasons teachers provided for making their decisions included changing policies, funding mechanisms, immigration rules changing culture and philosophies of education and inadequacies of teacher preparation. Most teachers never provided with codes of conduct and need to find their own way or rely on colleagues for advise. Interview fragments shared to support themes. Summarised implications for teachers of the ethical challenges including ill preparation, lack of support and ethical desensitisation. Recommendation for supporting teachers in this arena.

After lunch, a series of short 10 minute research project snapshot sessions in two streams. I attend the stream with presentations focused around teaching and learning.

Ann Murray on summarises her PhD in progress on A comparison of learning styles and success in the classroom , workshop and online. Rationalised and backgrounded study. Goal to help students match their way of approaching learning with delivery mode. Summarised learning styles diversity. Introduced Curry (1983) onion models with learning strategies wrapped around learning styles and learning preferences. Case study used with 3 students (Cert 3 to Diploma level ) in each delivery mode, monthly interviews across a year. Learning styles test (VARK) initially given, interviews with student, teachers/supervisors, examined student work and student diaries. Data analysis just commenced.

Caroline Lancaster presents on An exploration of current VET pedagogical trends through conversations with educational leaders. Interviewed seven leading VEt specialists. Used open questions centred around pedagogical issues and implications on professional identity. Shared responses and discussed implications. 

Ryan Euinton and Julie Ryan from Holmsglen teaching in the clothing design programme on Learning practical skills within a digitally integrated classroom. Rationalised the need for documentation, record and archive of skills to enhance learning. Focused on skills required to learn spatial orientation with regards to learning from digital resources. Presented example of resource and detailed process of developing the resource. 

Kay Schlesinger, Tania Teese, Chris Ho and Annemaree Gibson from Boxhill TAFE on Interactive teaching and learning strategies. Project documents interactive strategies, empower and support teachers, record and monitors adaptability and integration of the strategies and develop a COp to share and review these strategies. Impact on student satisfaction, teacher observations to be collected to gauge outcomes. 

John O’Donnel from William Angliss, tourism programmes, on Mobility as the teacher: experience based learning. Provided outline for the Diploma of Tourism. Shared philosophy on experiential learning. Used two cohorts of students, embarked on 12 day tour on sustainable tourism to the South Island of NZ to find out efficacy of study tours. More structure at pre, during and post phases of the study tour to help students gain the most from their study tour. 

Last workshop of day with Berwyn Clayton on Doing research in and on your own organisation: how hard can it be? Presented on the moral, physical and ethical dilemmas presented by doing insider research. Many advantages but tempered with challenges as well. Suggested strategies to circumvent disadvantages and to ensure research integrity. Advantages include better access to authentic data and participants, have organisation cultural knowledge, practical problem focused, can be cheaper and quicker, can make bigger impact and connect to local context when reporting. Disadvantages include roles duality, bias through familiarity, assuming participant views are known to researcher, unable to see bigger picture and too close to situation to produce good, culturally neutral accounts. challenges include negotiating access, promising anonymity and confidentiality, interviewing your own colleagues, challenging the value system of your organisation and managing power implications. Issues of anonymity, confidentiality and power discussed along with insider bias influencing and comprising validity, internal ethical engagement issues not always accounted for. Provided recommendations to tackle various challenges including access, gatekeepers, institutional / organisational politics, ensuring credibility and the ethics of care (ie. do no harm).

Overall. A good balance of academic and practitioner research presentations. Workshops were useful to allow for deeper exploration of topics or concepts. Good to meet up with familiar colleagues and catch up with their projects. 

AVETRA practioner research conference Day 1

In Melbourne for the annual AVETRA. Conference. This year, there is a focus on practitioner research. 

The first day is a series of one to one and a half hour workshops in two streams. A welcome from the AVETRA conference organising committee opens up the workshop afternoon. Various supporters for the conference are thanked. 

First workshop is with Dr. Henry Pook Director of applied research from Holmesglen TAFE on Developing collaborative proposal for applied research - the TAFE - industry nexus. Worked through why work with industry, who are our partners, how do we develop partners and how is an applied research project developed? A discussion based workshop for participants to unpack how applied research is organised within their contexts. Shared definition of applied research as systematic application of existing or new knowledge to the production or improving of new materials, products, services, devices, policies and systems. Check report - clever collaborations: the strong business case for partnering with universities - for university model. Discussed what TAFE could contribute.Identified potential industry and business partners relevant to own practice. Provided suggestions for development of partnerships. Proposed steps for developing proposals for applied research. Suggested starting small and a planned incremental approach. 

Second with Sharon Aris from Australian College of Applied Psychology with What do you or who you really? Researching and understanding industry knowledge. Sharon has background in youth work and PhD is framed using a theory developed to understand people. legitimation code theory LCT is a conceptual tool. (Check website)
A matrix of industry knowledge and practice, knowledge turned into curriculum and classroom and assessment practice with phases in skill or knowledge development with sites for learning, assessment processes and meeting of evaluative requirements.
Shared case studies. For her study, established there was knowing, doing and being in becoming a youth worker. Being was the most importance- you have to like young people. Therefore, knowledge is important but being the knower is more so. 

After afternoon tea, I pilot a workshop on Developing e-assessments for learning - an output for the Ako Aotearoa and NZ Qualifications Authority national project. Provided a background and details of eassessment project. We workshop a definition for assessment for learning relevant to each participant. Discuss ways and means for encouraging student learning through effective assessment for learning. The importance of feedback and digital tools able to support e-feedback to enable learning. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Resilience of skills learning versus content ‘knowledge’

A short sequence of facebook comments with a few of my relatives, triggers my thinking this morning. The topic is piano playing. As a child, I and many of my relatives, were taught to play the piano. We had weekly lessons and worked out way through the various music theory and piano practical grades. My mother’s contention was that music and being able to play the piano, would be a ‘fall back’ if I could not make it into higher education. Music teaching would be a way of earning a living. Pragmatic Asian parents did not articulate or maybe consider the broader consequences of funding music lessons. For me, the music lessons led to a lifelong appreciation of music, through exposure at an early age to the classical Western composers. The benefits for learning how toplan a musical instrument on one’s cognitive function and many other contributions are well-known. Suffice to say that music lessons, provide a myriad of advantages for young brains.

In a busy life, all my relatives now only play the piano occasionally. Yet, the muscle memory and skill connections to the brain are still strong and despite not playing for many years, everyone seems to be able to effortlessly pick up piano playing again.

Skills learning is thus resilient as when compared to ‘learning content’. In particular, if the skill becomes ‘automatic’ or ‘sub-conscious’ or ‘tacit’. The bringing together and overlaying of motor skills with cognitive skills (e.g. thinking and learning), assists the brain to solidify neural networks. Leading to lifelong retention. Piano playing, like riding a bike, skiing, driving a car with manual gear shifts etc. remain etched and embodied into our skills repertoire.

The above attests to the efficacy of experiential learning. If we couple learning of complex knowledge, skills and attributes with ‘learning by doing, learning becomes much more resilient over time. Learning 'content' is but one way to engage our brains. When learning 'content' we are using our cognitive functions and learning to learn is therefore an important asset attained through 'working through content'. It is not so much the content that is important, but the process of learning the content which we need to help our students connect with. How do they learn difficult to understand concepts? Helping learners unravel their metacognitive process assists them to then apply their learning method to other contexts. Like learning how to play a piano, once you learn how to learn effectively and understand how to deploy this across the many occasions one has to learn new skills, knowledge or attributes, should still be a major objective of being educated.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Limitations of robots and AI

Here is an interesting read from the BBC on 'four things to help us understand our AI colleagues'.

The article summarises the current state of play with regards to AI and how it impacts on the future of work. Of note is the summary of findings from the 2017 McKinsey Report stating only 5% of jobs would be eventually fully automated but 60% of occupations could see 1/3 of their roles be undertaken by robots.

We see the second scenario panning out now in many ways. For example, almost all the 'finding our more information' component of my research, is undertaken through access to databases which filter my searches. The results are collated into another database which is my bibliographical Endnotes. Instead of using manual index cards, the searching is done through electronic means, with its inherent biases and challenges.

The article provides for four rules which support the argument that robots are not quite ready to afford us of total leisure. These are:
- Robots don't think like humans
- Robots are not infallible - they make mistakes.
- Robots are not able to explain why they made a decision
- Robots may be biases.

All of the above can be circumvented with sufficient resourcing, but for the moment, there is some importance in ensuring we humans understand the limitations of robots and AI. It is especially important to work on the ethical issues around how robots and AI are governed as it is how these entities are 'programmed' with their inherent prejudices, which will dictate how they react and make decisions.

As per the book 'Smarter than you think' - see overview - we all need to learn now to work with 'smart machines' and one aspect of working with these 'tools' is to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. Robots and AI are powerful tools to augment human work and ensuring everyone understands how to best work with these tools, is one important aspect for the future of work and education.