I shall invite each member of the panel to address the issue of open learning for five minutes or so, then invite comments and questions from the audience. This is really the point at which we set the scenario for the conference and try to establish a platform of ideas on open learning and new technology.
Kevin Woods is the Executive Director of WA TAFE. Kevin trained as a cartographer at Perth Technical College and worked as a consulting land surveyor for 15 years before joining TAFE as a lecturer in surveying and cartography. In 1969 he graduated in surveying from WAIT, now Curtin University of Technology, where he went on to take graduate diplomas in education and in science education. In 1984 he was awarded an MBA from UWA and since then has been pursuing a PhD. Kevin spent 20 years with TAFE as lecturer, as head of department and as the inaugural director of the Great Southern Regional College at Albany. Now, in his present capacity as Director, Kevin firmly believes that TAFE has to become more competitive. He sees industry challenging institutional educational programmes. The current restructuring of TAFE aims at making the organisation more responsive to the changing needs of industry.
The North Island College definition of college was a house. Inside the house there were about half a dozen people who serviced a region covered mainly by snowfields with a couple of planes and a couple of roving tutors. They provided a completely open system of education from a small house on the shores of a lovely little bay, with salmon jumping out of the water. They ran this entire system of some 10 000 students, using open education systems, technology based solutions, and "just in time" solutions. There were a lot of people out there who required education and training but you could not build a bricks and mortar institutional facility in the snowfields of British Columbia. For a start there are no roads. This showed me the differences between closed learning and open learning and how to use a whole range of strategies.
The Minister referred to some open learning initiatives that TAFE is currently implementing, where you look at who the client is, what the client needs in terms of the range of skills formation programmes and then look at the best way to provide for these needs. It may be necessary to build a magnificent building like this one we are using tonight, have people come to it between certain hours and thus supply a range of learning opportunities for students. On the other hand, it may not be necessary, or even desirable. One of the questions that TAFE is looking at in its long term planning is how we may move away from training location to learning enterprise. This is a fundamental shift in our thinking. For example, the Minister made reference to the college that was sought by one of our northern towns for 30 odd million dollars. If you were to commit that sort of funding to capital works, you would be locking out a whole range of learning opportunities that might be better provided by adopting a completely different mindset about education, training and skills formation.
If you think of training location, you think of a building. If you think of learning enterprise you think of a mindset. You think about how you can solve the problems of providing educational and training opportunities using whatever resources and technologies you have at your disposal. The Minister referred to the importance of not letting the technologies drive what you do, but using the technologies that are necessary when they are necessary. I am reminded of some of these "just in time" concepts. I was born and raised in Kalgoorlie and I recall visiting the School of the Air as a child. They used some "just in time" technologies to serve a wide range of students at remote locations who could not get to an institution. Pedal radios were around in those days and on the outback stations we used the pedal radio technology to help provide the service the clients needed. The School of the Air is still alive and well today. In the future they may be using technology based upon satellites and land based fibre optics systems. The point to be remembered is that there was a technological solution to an educational delivery problem and the educators and the technologists got together and helped to solve the problem. To me that is what open learning is about. It means taking yourself out of a closed system and opening up the way you view technology and how you might apply it in an appropriate sense.
The other part of the brief that I was given tonight was to canvas TAFE's role in serving retraining and continuing education needs, using new systems such as open learning and new delivery mechanisms. We think of skilled and we start moving that across to multiskilled. I was skilled in narrow band surveying and mapping. These days we talk about how to multiskill. With multiskilling we're talking about breaking away from a narrow band curriculum and thinking about the challenges that this places upon educators. You are then moving towards skills formation. Training is something narrow, but skills formation provides a whole range of skills around a complex area that makes people multiskilled. There are technological challenges and mind challenges moving us to training skills formation. TAFE is trying to shift in this direction, from programme autonomy to programme integration.
When I was one of the first students on this campus in 1968, we had a Department of Surveying and Mapping, which was a very good department. We had single programmes which were not integrated into, for example, the computer department or the accounting department. When I went from my training as a surveyor to do an MBA at UWA, I had to start multiskilling myself in human resource management, accounting, computing, and all those other areas which would have been very useful to me had we had programme integration back in 1968.
We start looking at forces that drive education to respond to clients' needs and we go from resource driven thinking to market driven thinking. Who are our clients? How do we satisfy their needs? What sort of education and training solutions do we choose? How can technology help us? We change from being a specific trainer to being an integrated provider. To illustrate my point, I refer to my days as Director of Great Southern College, where we used to provide specific training within TAFE. We also provided for eleven university programmes on that campus by integrating the TAFE component with the university component. The college became an integrated provider using a range of technologies and open systems, ensuring access to education that would not have been available if we had been confined to specific TAFE programmes.
We are moving from centrally managed systems to managed processes of change within TAFE. The whole idea is to set up a system that is highly responsive and not as bureaucratic as it used to be. The people who operationalise the policy, out there in the field, set the policy. We have to look at the processes that drive the organisation and make sure that our managers of those processes are involved. We move from inflexibility and rigidity to just in time concepts.
I mentioned moving from the concept of training location to learning enterprise. We are very much aware of the college without campus model within TAFE. We do not need campuses to have colleges. We need learning enterprise mindsets and the ability to solve problems with the aid of technologies.
Looking at the range of presenters at this conference, I am envious that I can't be here longer. There are a number of TAFE people in the programme and as the one who has prime responsibility to government to ensure that the TAFE system is alive and well, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to see that these staff have been encouraged and motivated to embrace new solutions. I commend them, as I commend all the presenters. I hope you have a successful conference.
The Production Division at Woodside in Karratha must continue to provide various topics of training to a diverse workforce in a changing organisational environment. Although development of production facilities continues with the construction of LNG Train 3 and the Goodwin Platform, the company's operations have reached a fairly steady state. For training, this means that personnel changes are due mainly to turnover, transfers or promotions. The result of this is that employee change occurs at a low volume. Additionally, it is not easy to release employees for training at times convenient to all participants and all supervisors. Another problem is the relative isolation of the Pilbara region. Obviously we do not have the density of services available in the city. Thus training resources often have to be transported to a site at mutually convenient times. Occasionally production imperatives occur at times which are not convenient to anyone and which cut across training courses. It can always be argued, and it often is, that if training were considered important enough to run in the first place, it should not be interrupted by unforeseen production needs. But in the real world it can, and does, happen.
Training is just like maintenance or toolbox meetings, or like production quotas or budgeting. These operations are all part of the same business and each one requires attending to. The fact is that as trainers who perform a service for other sections of the organisation, we must supply a product that fits each section's business.
The situations I have outlined require that the training service we offer must allow for the individual requirements of the student, satisfy the needs of the organisation for a skilled workforce and offers a well structured learning system that produces desired results. We can no longer manage our organisational affairs and persist with training methods which are best called traditional. The Production Division of Woodside has, and must continue to explore, various means of providing for its workforce with regard to training in the future. Our goal is simple - to supply good quality training economically to a workforce which requires a high degree of flexibility in the management of its learning.
Western Australia is the only state with a multi institutional membership DEC. It is a consortium, not a centre. This means we harness a great deal of expertise in distance education, which under our charter, the Memorandum of Understanding, is now available to the member institutions, government and other organisations. We offer about 840 units of study for undergraduate and postgraduate awards from the member institutions. We have over 4000 students enrolled in these units. The wide range of disciplines in Western Australian distance education gives us a good opportunity, matched perhaps by only one of the other eight national DECs established by the Commonwealth government.
To illustrate the expertise I referred to, there are a number of presentations at this conference by people who are involved with WADEC and WADEC related projects. WADEC secured some National Priority (Reserve) Fund Commonwealth grants in 1990. These include funding for an Interactive Video Disc for Japanese Languages and Computer Assisted Learning tools for Chinese languages. These are projects of national significance. Grants have also been made for video conferencing at Curtin and WACAE. You will hear presentations relating to these tomorrow.
I wish to give a few personal views on open learning. In 1974 I was a member of the Australian Committee on Technical and Further Education, which coined the name TAFE and brought the Commonwealth Government into technical and further education. We produced a report running to several volumes, in which we wrote about new directions for TAFE, including self paced learning, open access, equity, participation and facilities for the handicapped. The whole concept of open learning was pushed hard in the Kangan Committee Report. So I don't need to be persuaded of the value of open learning.
The open learning philosophy, I believe, is brilliant. However, I should make reference to the fact that higher education's attitudes towards open learning need to change. For example, at the moment we force - I use the word force, a nice prejorative word - students to enrol at the same time and to sit examinations at the same time as internal students. Some institutions allow external students to take longer over their studies, but I don't think anyone allows them to cover the work in a shorter period of time. Self paced learning suggests that we need more in the way of challenge assessments.
There should be more recognition and acceptance of the experience and learning gained in the outside world. Educational institutions have no monopoly on the location of teaching and learning. And of course there is the issue of credit transfer. It is nonsense, I believe, that many faculties in higher education institutions will not accept a TAFE diploma for anything other than meeting the entry requirements for higher education. To give credit is meaningful because, in my experience in both TAFE and higher education, TAFE studies reach up well and truly into first and often second year university level work in many of its diploma courses. Credit transfer should be granted by our universities.
Finally, I would question why is face to face teaching so much more important than external studies in the ethos of academic staff? We have complaints of staff being overloaded. Many lecturers believe that learning can only take place if they talk and tell. Few, it seems, have heard of that new technology called built in orderly organised knowledge (the acronym of that I'll leave to you) or understand that the student is capable of using this knowledge. We need to look at ways in which we can change attitudes of staff in higher education and open up learning. Perhaps I am on dangerous ground, but after 18 months of recent work with the Ministry of Education on award restructuring for school teachers, I suggest that industrial awards might provide one incentive to change some of these attitudes.
As you'll note from the list of areas that I cover within the Trades and Labor Council, it covers secondary education and I have been grappling with some of the issues there relating to the Secondary Education Authority and the future of the upper school curriculum. Higher education is normally the area of responsibility of the secretary, Clive Brown, but unfortunately when the conference organisers wrote to us they put my name on it, and in the true tradition of all great bureaucracies, that meant that I was going to deal with it, whether it was my area or not. Nonetheless we do have some views on the issue.
Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought that open learning was associated only with the Open University in Great Britain. I didn't realise that there are some fairly important implications of open learning for the trade union movement's agenda. There are concerns about leaping straight into learning without considering all the consequences. This is tied in with our award restructuring agenda. Award restructuring is going to require broad changes in training, particularly for workers currently in the work force. Restructured awards will have associated training levels that will need to be achieved by individual workers. They will then have rates of pay associated with the skills that they gain. This raises some very significant questions for us.
The questions relate to the skills that the worker is going to have and which the employer is going to use. Who is going to pay for the training? Who will pay for the worker's time while he or she is involved in the training? Is this training going to be in the worker's time, or is it going to be in the employer's time? How should this time be divided? Who is going to pay for the training that is received through institutions?
We can see that open learning will be a very effective mechanism for the delivery of training, but will the questions I've raised be answered? Currently we are looking at installing in the awards themselves paid time off to enable workers to obtain the training they need, so that it will be the employer who pays. We are encouraging employers to pay the institutions that are delivering the training, but open learning definitely raises the possibility that a lot of this training can take place in the worker's own time. We can see that the employers are going to welcome that possibility. This issue needs to be addressed.
The second issue concerns the industrial implications for the teachers and the deliverers of training. Does open learning mean that the teaching role is reduced? What is the impact on the teachers and traditional deliverers of these services? We believe that it is necessary to use work places as training institutions. We will not be able to afford to provide the resources to organisations such as TAFE to purchase all the equipment needed for training. It is just too expensive. Equipment used in the work place will have to assume a training role as well as a production role. Open learning offers advantages in ensuring that we can use live equipment and other resources on site in the training role.
The trade union movement is pursuing comprehensive training associated with the award restructuring agenda. The pressure from employers is often for short courses that target very specific knowledge issues. Employers prefer to have a two or four week course rather than the provision of broad training in all the aspects of particular occupations. We want to make sure that open learning does not increase the danger of us having a lot of short courses with workers acquiring very specific knowledge and then being able to do only specific tasks, losing the benefits of a broader background.
A related issue is transferable skills. We want to make sure that any of the knowledge that is gained is transferable, so that workers are not limited to work within just one organisation. The skills they gain must be able to be transferred when they leave a particular organisation. Open learning must not be used in such a way that it provides skills that are too narrowly defined.
The credentialling of courses is very important to us because it is associated with levels of pay under restructured awards. When workers have gained new knowledge or skills by completing a course, these must be recognised and the workers should gain formal certification. The issues of articulation and transfer of credit towards TAFE and even higher education qualifications also need to be addressed.
These are the areas of concern to us in the TLC. We are positive about open learning. We believe in encouraging open learning. We will have to move towards lesser reliance on institutional training. We do not want whiz bang technologies being introduced for their own sake. We want to see technology being used in a positive way to ensure that people have knowledge and skills that are worthwhile. We congratulate the organisers of this conference and wish everyone well tomorrow.
WADEC is another of those Commonwealth resource driven models where they encourage people to do things, not by giving them money, but by withholding money. The Minister made reference to a new cooperative venture in telecommunications and education, Edtel. This is not a resource driven model, but a cooperative venture, encouraging higher education, TAFE, the school system and others, to apply their resources to satisfy a particular client need. In WA it is particularly pleasing to see the level of cooperation that exists between the institutional providers. I think we are unique, certainly ahead of other states in that regard.
I think that people who are not used to the traditional training institution will benefit from open learning.
|Please cite as: Latchem, C. (Chair) (1990). Opening panel session. In R. Atkinson and C. McBeath (Eds.), Open Learning and New Technology: Conference proceedings, 15-27. Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter. http://www.aset.org.au/confs/olnt90/a-panel.html|