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Changing roles - Rumpole or Buckingham?

Brian Murphy
Torrens Valley Institute of TAFE

As Principal Lecturer in the Computing and Information Systems Faculty at the Torrens Valley Institute since the establishment of the Tea Tree Gully Campus, I am able to draw upon extensive experience in implementing competency based assessment. Key areas of concern include the impact of competency based assessment on student expectations about the way that they interact with teaching staff and the learning environment. Traditional approaches to the delivery of education, with the emphasis on lecturer dominated delivery and final examinations are not compatible with a competency based vocational education and training format curriculum. The change of focus from the lecturer to the student, and the emphasis on demonstration of knowledge and skills, changes the role of the lecturer from that of an examiner to a collector of evidence. This shift in emphasis requires a transformed learning environment. Experiences within the Computing and Information Systems Faculty at the Torrens Valley Institute in the implementation of Associate Diploma courses over the last two and a half years will be discussed in this paper.


The Computing and Information Systems Faculty at the Tea Tree Gully Campus of the Torrens Valley Institute of TAFE was established to offer a range of Business Computing courses up to Associate Diploma level. Consistent with the philosophy of the campus. a student centred. resource based approach to the delivery of the training was adopted. Staff were required to be skilled in the flexible delivery of learning, the preparation of learning materials and assessment methods. From the first intake of students in February 1992, the assessment of students' knowledge and skills was based on the principles of competency based vocational education and training.

At this point it is useful to categorise the basis of the assessment used at Tea Tree Gully. The method applied can be classified as "assessment based on samples of performance" using the following criteria: "The practical assessments are designed to measure the technical or performance aspects of competence. The written and oral tests are usually designed to measure underpinning knowledge and understanding" (Watson, 1994)

This approach is common in formal college training courses. It should be noted that in 1992 no industry or workplace standards of competence relevant to the Computing awards were in existence and only since 1993 has work been done with industry to establish standards.

The staff at Tea Tree Gully, as a pilot for the rest of South Australia, determined assessment criteria and assessment instruments appropriate to the then current curriculum documents. Assessments covered individual and group work and retries were permitted. Students were provided with assessment packages detailing the assessment activities, assessment criteria and proposed schedule of assessment. Thorough records on individual attempts at assessment activities and the criteria met were kept; some manual and some computer based.

Competency based vocational education and training

The guiding definition of competence used by the Computing and Information Systems Faculty at Tea Tree Gully has been: Competence: the ability to carry out specified activities to predetermined standards of performance." (SCOTVEC, 1991)

In developing the assessment policies at Tea Tree Gully, staff used the concept that assessment of competence is "the process of collecting evidence and making judgements on whether or not performance criteria have been met" (National Council for Vocational Qualifications, 1991).

In fact it is these two elements of assessment (the process of collecting evidence and making Judgements) that are critical in the roles of lecturers and learners. In a traditional TAFE Computing course the collection of evidence was done mostly by the setting of formal examinations at the end of semesters. Often the role of the lecturer is to prepare the examinations based on an interpretation of the curriculum. Consequently the role most often adopted by a lecturer is to teach the students to pass the examination. Judgements on student knowledge and skills are based on marks awarded and could be influenced by subjective factors such as the lecturer's own social or cultural values or prejudices. The roles can be likened to a defendant facing an ominous figure such as Judge Bullingham at the Old Bailey depicted in a Rumpole story.

This places strain of the inter-relationship between lecturers and students, with the latter trying to outwit the former.

Changed roles

One of the greatest driving forces in changing lecturer roles in Competency Based Vocational Education and Training is the expectations by students under such training.
A strength of CBT is that it is a transparent system of training in which learners are aware of what they have to do in order to succeed. Teachers and trainers have no secrets, and assessment contains no tricks that have been concealed from learners. CBT has the potential to shift management of the learning process into the hands of learners and allow them to make decisions about how they wish to attain specific outcomes. (State Training Board Victoria, 1994)
The publication of a full set of specifications of assessment (criteria and methods) for each module has been a key factor in changing the students' expectations at Tea Tree Gully. Experiences at Tea Tree Gully have demonstrated that under such conditions, it is common to develop a cooperative relationship between lecturer and learners. The role of the lecturer is to assist, guide or facilitate the learner in the acquisition of knowledge and skills even though the lecturer may have developed the activities to be used for assessment and ultimately make judgements on whether or not competence has been achieved. The fact that the assessments are based on published criteria and the standards that are to be met are stated in advance, enables the learner and lecturer to work together in collecting evidence. The judgement of assessments can be seen as objective and not at the lecturer's discretion. We can liken the relationship to that between Rumpole and a member of the Timson family in collecting evidence for a forthcoming trial. The process of judgement is to match the evidence against known standards. Of course the issue of what to do with negative evidence is problematic in Competency Based Vocational Education and Training as it may be for Rumpole.

While it is clear that the potential exists for a shift of emphasis from lecturer to learner to take place it is not certain that will happen but it is argued that it is essential for success of Competency Based Vocational Education and Training. "..successful implementation of any competency based program will depend on the extent to which teachers and instructors can successfully adopt or acquire the new roles and responsibilities required of this form of vocational education and training." (Watson, 1993)

In the author's experience, the change does not always happen and in fact traditional views in some institutions can reduce the opportunities for change even to the extent of forcing assessment to be held in set examination periods.

The organisation of the Learning Environment can have a major bearing on the extent to which the opportunities for changed roles will be adopted.

The learning environment

The first impression that one gains in entering the teaching areas at Tea Tree Gully is one of open, light airy spaces in which the activity is visible. This compares with a traditional school or college building in which one is often walks down long corridors with classroom activities going on behind closed doors. The philosophy of flexibility in the delivery of learning was embodied in the Campus building in that the internal walls are not load bearing and can be moved to provide a different layout. In the author's experience this prevents the generation of feelings of ownership of a particular room and staff are more open to flexible use of the spaces.

In addition, there are a variety of sizes of room, from large open spaces to small seminar rooms available. These provide alternatives for students and staff to choose from. For example a typical session may start with a review of some material then groups may break off to work on learning materials or assignments. The students find a space that suits them; it may be a small seminar room, the nearby Learning Assistance Centre, the student lounge or out in the open air. The lecturer will be informed of their location and visit the groups as required. At Tea Tree Gully a Learning Assistance Centre is used to store the resources such as books, magazines, video and audio tapes, has study space for individuals and groups, has terminals used to access the library catalogue as well as a number of computers connected to the campus network.

In computing areas while "classes" for specific modules, such as programming modules, may be assigned for a defined time, other students are free to use free computers in the area at the same time. While it could be argued that the changed role of the staff encourages such use purely because of the shift to Competency Based Education and Training, the nature of the learning environment works towards the collaborative roles and against the traditional roles.

Thus, if one was looking to take an existing building and redesign it to maximise the adoption of the changed roles then the lesson from Tea Tree Gully is that the key is to open up the closed rooms by removing some walls, where practicable, and with the use of glass. The aim should be to provide a variety of spaces that are adaptable to various uses.

In the major areas devoted to computer usage, large open spaces were provided and a variety of layouts trialed. Initially, due to lack of funds, long "computer benches" were installed. In some of the larger areas in particular, staff were concerned about the effect of this arrangement. The rooms tended to feel impersonal and it was not conducive to the development of group work and collaborative learning. Subsequently, specialised office furniture, based on low screens and modular desk arrangements, was used to establish work areas for groups of approximately six people in the large spaces. The result has been to provide for a variety of activities in the large space; computer use, individual study and group work. The low screens, while providing defined areas, still retain the open airy feeling typical of the campus.

There appears then, to be a danger in simply removing walls and creating vast barn like spaces when attempting to design areas for flexible delivery of learning. The impersonal nature of these spaces could tend to favour the more traditional roles of learner and lecturer rather than the collaborative roles which may be desired. In a training environment we do not wish to follow the design features of IBM: "Their new district office in New Jersey is as impersonal as a left luggage locker." (Greig, 1994)

The experiences of using specialised modular furniture has demonstrated its value in supporting the changed roles. What can be done without the expense of specialised furniture?.

One of the large computer suites at Tea Tree Gully has not had the modular furniture installed but the worst features of the large open space seem to have been avoided. One factor has been the shape of the room; it is roughly L shaped and has some naturally occurring areas. Secondly, in addition to the computer benches, different sized tables have been placed around the room to provide for group work. At the time of writing, one set of screens had been installed to break the room up. These are above head height and staff feedback indicates that these are too high and take away the open feeling inherent in the campus building.

Access and security

In designing new buildings or redesigning existing ones for flexible delivery, thought must be given to access and security, especially for "after hours" access that is expected in such a methodology. On the positive side, there has been little theft of equipment because it is easy to see what is happening as one walks around. In fact there is almost no opportunity to hide. However, in open plan areas, opening up one area tends to provide access to a number of other areas at the same time. For "after hours" access where there may be only a small number of staff and students present this may be undesirable and necessitate extra staff being employed.

A feature of the resource based approach to learning embodied in the building design at Tea Tree Gully is the presence of a Learning Assistance Centre on each floor. In these centres students have access to learning resources, audio visual and other specialised equipment, computers and computer based resources, and library catalogues. Each Learning Assistance Centre has group or individual study areas and is staffed by a trained "library technician". In a Competency Based Vocational Education and Training environment the Learning Assistance Centre staff have developed a collaborative role with the learners and offer specialised skills to form part of the team working with the students. The location of the Learning Assistance Centres in close proximity to the other learning spaces they serve is critical to their successful use. Students must be able to move conveniently and quickly between these different areas.

One question that needs to be addressed in designing Learning Assistance Centres is whether or not items can be borrowed. If this is allowed then borrowing and return procedures have to be established and staff trained. These trained staff have to be present at all opening periods, including "after hours" times.

One of the difficulties faced in such an open environment is the difficulty of supervising formal activities to be used for summative assessment of individual students . A possible solution to this dilemma is to set aside a separate area dedicated to these activities and this is under discussion at Tea Tree Gully. It may also help to reduce the negative aspect of the lecturer as "judge" by setting a special area aside for these activities; the distinction between advocate and judge would be clearer.

Information technology and infrastructure

Inherent in the preceding discussion has been the expectation that there is appropriate Information Technology present to support the changed lecturer and student roles. What are the features of this?

To maximise the opportunities for students to take control of their learning and choose the area in which they wish to work, a universal provision of a minimum level of Information Technology is required. Generally this would mean a multi-user or networked computer system. Sets of stand alone Personal Computers tend to vary in the software that is available on them as it is too expensive to provide a complete suite of software on every machine.

From the outset, the Information Technology at Tea Tree Gully was based on a Local Area Network of PCs and Macintoshes with access to Unix multi-user computers. For selected users, access is available to the Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet) and hence the Internet. The design philosophy was that students and staff would be able to access their personal menu, storage and programs from almost any area in the building or via dialup access.

The networked computer system also provides access to computer based resources such a CD-ROM libraries and online databases. Staff and students work together in developing their skills in accessing up to date information from a variety of sources.

Electronic mail has been provided as part of the Local Area Network and enables communication between all users or groups at any time. Students or staff can share information quickly and easily and this builds up collaborative relationships. Part time students particularly benefit from this.

The flexibility in the room layout and the possibility to redesign the spaces necessitated the same degree of flexibility in the provision of Information Technology. An early decision was made to use inexpensive Unshielded Twisted Pair wiring as this offered simple and reliable ways of relocating workstations and it was possible and economical to "flood wire" the building. This meant that wires were run to all possible access points and even where the needs had been determined, generally twice as much was provided. Only those wires that are currently needed have been connected or "terminated" and the extras remain in the ceiling space until required. Already a number of these extras have been used as changed or expanded uses of rooms has eventuated. A wiring system such as this should be given serious consideration for a Local Area Network in any building being redesigned for flexible delivery.

Management tools

The collection of evidence of an individual's knowledge and skills in a Competency Based Vocational Education and Training system requires comprehensive records. "Complex records of progressive achievement are required as individual retries may be allowed on assessment events until competence is achieved." (Watson, 1993)

A variety of paper based methods have been devised by staff at Tea Tree Gully to record these outcomes and some are using "Manager" software. Based on experience in evaluating Computer Managed Learning software it is the author's opinion that the software currently available in Australia which will run on Local Area Networks falls short of staff needs. In particular, most packages place too rigid a structure on the record keeping to provide an institution wide solution to the problem. Generally the packages can be set up to support one faculty's particular method of course arrangement and assessment practices but then not be appropriate to other arrangements. These packages have been successful where they have been used by one faculty or program. Also there is a need to provide Computer Managed Learning software that more accurately mirrors or supports the collaborative nature of the process of collection of evidence. It should provide students with the assessment specifications, record their progress towards competence and distinguish between formative and summative assessment.

In a flexible learning environment, the task of keeping track of student attendances can become an administrative burden for staff. At Tea Tree Gully an "electronic roll" system has greatly reduced this work and has become a tool for staff to use in reviewing student progress and following up non-attendance. The system is linked to the state wide Student Management System of enrolments and students register their own attendance during defined session times. This is another element of the Learning Environment the reduces the traditional lecturer/ student roles.


The change in the roles of lecturer and learner seen to be necessary for the successful implementation of a Competency Based Vocational Education and Training system can be facilitated by the learning environment. The elements of the environment include the physical nature of the building and the room layout, the Information Technology and the Management tools available.


Greig, G. (1994). IBM tries impersonal office culture of the 90s. The Australian, Computers and High Technology. April 5, 1994.

National Council for Vocational Qualifications (1991). Guide for national qualifications. Employment Department, Great Britain.

State Training Board Victoria (1994). Assessment and Quality Assurance in a Competency Based Training System. Unpublished discussion paper, January 1994.

SCOTVEC (1991). The National Certificate: A Guide to Assessment. Scottish Vocational Educational Council, 1991.

Watson, A. (1994). Three strategies for the assessment of competence. The Australian TAFE Teacher, 28(1), 35-39.

Watson, A. (1993). Competency based vocational education and training in Australia; some unresolved issues. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Vocational Education Research, 1(2).

Author: Brian Murphy, Principal Lecturer, Computing and Information Systems, Torrens Valley Institute of TAFE, Tea Tree Gully Campus, 100 Smart Road, Modbury SA 5092, Phone (08) 2078071 Fax (08) 2078008, Email:

Please cite as: Murphy, B. (1994). Changing roles - Rumpole or Buckingham? In J. Steele and J. G. Hedberg (eds), Learning Environment Technology: Selected papers from LETA 94, 168-172. Canberra: AJET Publications.

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