Thursday, March 27, 2014

Vale TAFE SA

Today concluded 25 years of working with TAFE SA. Some reflections on that (mostly) wonderful part of my life...

My first teaching appointment in TAFE was as a part time English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher of night classes in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. From the outset, coming from the school sector, I was struck by the amount of trust I was given. Just twice in several  months in those early days in TAFE was I contacted by my manager to check if everything was going OK, and on both occasions it was clear that it was assumed that I was a professional who knew their job and would do the right thing by my students and the organisation. There was a curriculum (no Training Packages back then) and it was up to me how I taught it, what resources I used, and how I assessed students, but support was there if I needed it. Being the kind of person I am I responded favourably to this approach - I felt trusted and respected.
After some months I applied for a contract position on the Education Program for Migrants (EPM) at the now defunct Kilkenny campus. I won the position at interview (at which some people were smoking!) EPM was a ground breaking program. It entailed English language instruction, vocational electives held at various TAFE campuses, and a work experience program. And we had a budget to hold a graduation ceremony that showcased students'  skills and progress that to this day I remember as landmark events . It was common for students to say "I will never forget this day" because they had been afforded for the first time in their new country the opportunity to display their talents in public, and be proud of who they were.
Twenty five years in an organisation is a long time and it's sobering to reflect on the fact that several colleagues who had a significant role in your professional life as friends and mentors are now dead. One of these people was Bron Davis. Anyone who knew Bron knows that she was not always easy to work with but she taught me a lot about how to be an effective ESL teacher and I am forever in her debt. I hope you're resting in peace Bron.
Of course the wheel turned and funding for this very successful program was cut. The ESL program of Western Adelaide Institute, as it was known at the time, was moved to Croydon and the Kilkenny campus was demolished. I became the coordinator of the ESL program at Croydon and held that position for several years. Throughout this time my program manager (of Vocational Preparation) was Brian Jackson. Brian was a delightful man who cared for his staff, stood up for us and the program when necessary, and just quietly went about his business. He didn't check up on you or want to know everything that was going on. But he too was there to offer support when needed. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Brian. I never met your style of manager again in ensuing years in TAFE.
It was during this time at Croydon that I discovered the Internet.  I think it was 1997. I came back to work and turned on my computer. I noticed a new icon on the desktop - a capital N. I clicked on it and I knew instantly what it was. It was the Internet! The N was for Netscape - one of the earliest browsers. I'd heard about this 'information superhighway' and just started clicking. I was smitten instantly. I have often wondered why others at that same point were not immediately smitten. I was used to technology. I had at this stage spent several years navigating the intricacies of Word Perfect, the precursor to Microsoft Word, and had enjoyed learning how to exploit its more advanced functions so it was a natural transition for me to graduate to another layer of technology.
Within weeks I was drawing on the Internet to create materials for my ESL classes. I discovered very quickly that there were significant numbers of ESL/EFL teachers around the globe who were putting their lesson materials online and I happily made use of them. The next step was to organise for my ESL classes to be held once a week in a computer room. I would direct my students to ESL specific sites - the pioneer of them all was Dave's ESL Cafe. There I would set students to work on the many exercises that Dave's ESL Cafe provided. And they loved it. Even students with zero or rudimentary computer skills would work diligently to complete the comprehension and fill in the gap exercises. This was the first occasion when I saw students who wanted to continue the exercises after the lesson was over and I would have to reluctantly insist that students shut down the computer and vacate the room!
The next step was to contact actual students who were online from various places around the world and initiate live chat. I remember the first time a student, disbelievingly, typed some introductory text into the little chat box. We waited and watched and some seconds later some student somewhere in the world replied! My student looked at me speechless and I had to tell them that there was someone online at that very moment willing to talk with them. A magic moment.
Another part of the site allowed for students to leave their details as part of a basic profile that included an email address.  After introducing my students to email via basic conversations with me, some felt brave enough to compose an email to an unknown stranger.  Annie from China was one who was keen to try this out. I set her up with an email address and she sat at the computer ready to type to someone. Before she had typed a word she looked up at me and said, "Is this typing or talking?" Another magic moment! She had realised instinctively that she was about to embark on a new form of communication for which there were no rules - a new genre if you will. I told her it was a combination of both. Something else I have often wondered about is why some people instinctively 'get' this Internet thing - Annie knew she was on the precipice of something brand new and exciting.
Some students of course struggled with the writing requirements of this kind of Internet contact, and the next magic moment in my early days of Internet exploration with low-level ESL students was with an Iranian student. She was from Tehran and I guided her through the process of using a search engine (it was Lycos!) to search for pictures of Tehran. Happily we found some - we found a site that even provided full  screen images so we clicked on a full screen image of a street scene in Tehran. What happened next was nothing less than profound. She was suddenly silent as she gazed at the scene on the screen in front of her and then managed to utter "that's my city." With tears in her eyes she just sat there gazing at images of home. This was the first time I realised the incredible power of this new medium.
So began my love affair with the Internet that completely changed the direction of my career from ESL teacher to Internet and Education specialist. It was around the year 2000 that I was 'tapped on the shoulder' by Deb Bennett and asked if I would like take up a position as a Professional Development Officer in Online Education for the newly formed Online Education Services (OES) unit. I accepted the challenge and reluctantly relocated to a new office in Adelaide TAFE. It was a hard decision to leave the safety and camaraderie of ESL teaching but it was one of the best I ever made.
At that time TAFE SA led the nation in online learning, due largely to the vision and foresight of the manager of the OES unit - Neil Strong.  Neil had quite deliberately assembled a group of people who could take TAFE SA forward in this new and exciting area.  Before long my working life in TAFE became one of a gypsy. Whereas at Kilkenny and Croydon I was located on one campus year after year,  my life became one where I, together with Doug Purcell, would visit and run training sessions in WebCT on several different campuses a week. This included country campuses. Quite frequently Doug and I would set off on road trips and visit campuses in the Riverland, the mid north, and as far as Port Augusta. Further afield we took planes to Lincoln, Whyalla, and Mt Gambier. On all these occasions we would arrive at a regional campus and announce, "We're from the government and we're here to help you." It became our standing joke, but we loved every minute of travelling far and wide across the state to assist lecturers in the new world of online and elearning.

CONFERENCES

Such was our profile in the Australian VET sector WebCT entrusted us with the planning, coordination and hosting of national WebCT conferences for our part of the world. So the next stage of my TAFE life was to work closely with Deb Bennett to coordinate a program for these conferences. These were incredibly successful events that drew people from around the country and the whole Asia-Pacific region. The work was challenging, incredibly complex,  and immensely rewarding.
The next steps in my journey took me overseas. It's hard to imagine in these cash strapped times how this was ever possible but in those times TAFE was a visionary forward-looking organisation that saw value in promoting our brand overseas, and sending staff overseas to see what others were doing and bring back that first hand experience for the benefit of TAFE SA. Consequently I went on trips to Georgia and Vancouver to attend WebCT conferences and visit other educational organisations.

MIND MEDIA (Douglas  Mawson Institute)
Somewhere in amongst all this giddy activity of organising international conferences and travelling the state training staff in elearning I became part of MindMedia. MindMedia was a mystery to many. What does it do people would ask? Principally its job was to foster innovative practice - remarkable now to consider that that was the brief! But we had to cover as much of our salaries as possible. And led by the inimitable Marie Jasinski, we more or less did. For several years we were the home of Learnscope, a national elearning professional development program hosted by the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (the 'Framework'). We hosted the national website (designed and administered by Tim Cavanagh), and saw a succession of national and international guests come through our doors due to Marie's indefatigable entrepreneurial spirit - among them Stephen  Downes, Tom Reeves, and Thiagi . It felt like we were at the centre of the elearning universe in Australia, and I think for a while we were. We hosted international WebCT conferences and the national VET elearning PD program. Everything elearning came through TAFE SA.
I've had the pleasure of working with several great workgroups, but MindMedia was the most stimulating. As I said, our brief was innovation. Marie J was a wonderfully creative thinker and was always coming up with new ideas on teaching and learning. Tim ran the website,  Jeff Catchlove and I facilitated Learnscope projects and ran PD sessions, and it was all held together by the admin skills of Jenni Chappel. (Thanks Jenni!) It was an extraordinary place to work There were other people who were an important  part of MindMedia (eg Lawrence James, Janet McMillan (the most fun manager I ever had!) and a cast of others who came through in the course of the week. And then tragedy struck. Marie suddenly got very ill and had to take time off. It's a long sad story. Marie died and the unit was eventually closed as part of a new TAFE strategy to centralise all media services into one. The rot had begun.
Unfortunately serious illness also played a part in the demise of OES. Neil Strong got sick and had to retire, and the powers that be began to frown on units that were going outside of TAFE to earn money and it was discouraged. Again ironic when you consider the current climate where we are all now encouraged to go out and create business. So the wheel turns!

KWALITY WITH A 'K'
Leftist activists of the late 1960s in America used to refer to 'Amerika with a K' to highlight the fact that the Anerican ideal of peace and equality was a just a dream for many. They argued that many Americans lived in poverty and hardship, experienced daily racism and other forms of prejudice, and that the system perpetuated these inequalities. Whenever they spelt Amerika with a K it was to remind people of these injustices.
Let me be clear - the AQTF and the AQF are in themselves a good idea. What is not such a good idea in my opinion, and where we have lost the plot, is the over emphasis on assessment, auditing and accountability. In TAFESA these processes have been regularly and stoutly defended as required by a department we now called 'Quality.' I am sure that Quality achieved some things of worth, but I also know that under this guise of Quality I saw:
·         an increasing lack of trust in dedicated professionals
·         a growing obsession with assessment and auditing
·         the amount of time people had to prepare for teaching drastically reduced
·         the amount of time needed for assessment and reporting drastically increase
·         sometimes appalling treatment of staff
·         bullying of staff by managers
·         a noticeable drop-off in attendance at PD sessions (because staff had no time for such things)
- all in the name of quality! I had been annoyed for some time that TAFE had hijacked the word quality and I started silently referring to it as Kwality, because what our 'quality system' had instituted in the name of kwality had nothing to do with quality. In fact I could easily argue that with the ever increasing influence of 'Quality' in our system TAFE life has had less and less to do with quality. What I am absolutely sure of is the regard that the organisation has for its employees is a far cry from the way people were treated when I first came into TAFE. It is very, very sad to see. Accountability, satisfying budgets, and passing audits is about Kwality. Looking after your staff is about quality. As in quality of life. Kwality has more to do with covering your butt at every turn so you can't be sued.


A RIVER DIVIDES TAFE

Around this time someone(s) decreed that  the River Torrens would divide metro TAFE into south and north. I fell out on the northern side although I had worked across TAFE for the last 10 years. it was very strange to have to separate from friends and colleagues across the river. I was fortunate though to be able to continue in an elearning PD role. A little while later and the Teaching and Learning Units for each of the three new institutes were born, and I found myself in a workgroup of three. I found this really difficult. For about 15 years I had been part of larger workgroups that had been dynamic, progressive and full of energy, but it's hard to generate that same dynamism between three people. The three were Mark Hunwicks (manager), Cheryl Cox, and me. Over time we became quite close and really felt that we were doing a good job servicing the PD needs of TAFE Adelaide North. And then another door closed. Teaching and Learning units were not part of the new structure that was unleashed mid 2013. Further it was decreed that there would be no TAFE  Act staff doing any PD. Mark decided to leave in September and now I follow 6 months later. I find it difficult to see how I fit into an organisation that appears to have sidelined the education part of Vocational Education and Training.
When I was a novice in my early days in TAFE I sometimes came across veterans who had been in TAFE a long time and were dissatisfied with the way things were changing. (I guess it is ever thus!) But I thought at the time that these disgruntled oldies would be better off leaving. They just seemed to whinge constantly. I had become well aware over the last few years that I had reached a similar stage in my TAFE life. I disapproved of many of the changes and tried hard not to appear as a disgruntled type who just pined for the old days. Only others can judge whether I was successful on that score! I do find it hard to accept the changes. To me the only logical explanation is that the government has embarked on a deliberate policy to dismantle as much of TAFE as they can. All done under the guise of Skills for All. (Sorry - I don't believe in it!)
As it happens, for the first time in my life last week before the recent election I received a door knock from my local member. I asked them why they were ripping TAFE apart and suggested it would be preferable if they were open and upfront about what they were doing. Interestingly, they didn't offer any counter argument.
Obviously I am disenchanted about what is happening in TAFE, and I can be very critical of these changes. But I also want to say that I was very proud for at least 23 of my 25 years here to say that I worked for TAFE SA. I have had an amazing ride. TAFE has afforded me opportunities to develop personally and professionally in ways I could never have imagined. It sent me overseas several  times, enabled me to travel the state and attend conferences all over the country, and gave me the priceless gift of meeting hundreds, if not thousands, of wonderful students and colleagues who have enriched my life and helped me grow. It gave me enormous freedom. I have often told people that I have the best job of anyone I know. But times changed, and I no longer share the same values that the current organisation espouses. In fact, I don't know what TAFE stands for anymore. Every decision made in TAFE these days is made for just one reason - to save money. And when that is the case you have arrived in a race to the bottom. I sincerely hope that it survives and that people coming into TAFE now get as much pleasure and pride out of it  as I have done.
Thank you all for your friendship and support. I loved being your colleague, and helping out where I could. But .....as they say on reality TV shows...it's time to go....Michael!

Farewell.




Sunday, March 16, 2014

5 Step Guide to Being German - 3rd Edition

Quirks in the collective personalities of nations are a rich vein of humour for comedians and the much travelled Paco Erhard is in a better position to exploit this than most. Americans are lousy at geography, the Spanish are a tad too laid back, and the Bavarians don't like to be thought of as German. Not so much a 5 step guide to being German but more of a defence/explanation of why Germans are the way they are, this funny and entertaining show has a serious point to make about cultural differences. If only political leaders might adopt the comedian's realistic view that none of us are normal.....certainly not Germans. Yes Erhard gets good mileage from Germany's past (Nazism, etc) but it's from the perspective of a generation who had no part in it and yet are held to account for Germany's past sins. Sounds heavy but it's not. Erhard's beguiling charm has us all laughing at ourselves, but mostly at Germans! 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Future of Learning

Notes from the Future of Learning Conference (Sydney, February, 2014)



Keynote: Mike Keppell: Understanding the Next Gen Learners


  • PLN; UGC
  • innovative pedagogical practices (diagram)
  • components of dig lit "understand info no matter how its presented"
  • Rheingold: 'mindfulness'
  • Digital ID (get from slides - to be added)
  • Mike has had important conversations on Slideshare; also provides a form of learning analytics
  • your digital footprint more important that CV? (dig tattoo?)


SEAMLESS LEARNING


  • continuity of learning across locations, times, technologies, social settings
  • assessment as learning - includes forward looking feedback; students have input into assessment crtiteria (rubric)
  • dig cams give you instant feedback!
  • [note to self: get a Garmin gadget - exercise; Fitbit?]
  • Desire Paths - enable?
  • new mindsets required

EDDIE BLASS - the year of 2525

5 drivers of change:

1) Dig Tech
  • BYOD
  • learning analytics
  • blend (student chosen)
  • informal
  • collaboration
  • gamification


2) Democratisation of Knowledge
  • privacy redefined
  • others can create your social identity
  • smart systems/machines (eg Fitbit)
  • instant peer review
  • crowd sourced innovation


Therefore, what is the future role of research at your org?

3) Contestable Funding (for Higher ed)
  • the next gen will be poorer than the previous generation for the first time in history!
  • Ph Ds are not defended orally in Oz (viva)


4) Global Mobility
  • cross  - cultural
  • service provision (Khan Academy; MOOCs)
  • global accreditation


5) Integration with Industry
  • by 2025 TAFE will be embedded in higher ed (assuming that TAFE will still exist)
  • there will be 'pracademics'
  • universe-cities - ed for the masses
  • ac freedom superseded by Internet; ac id will be transient


TECH DEVELOPMENTS ACROSS THE UK
Richard Walker (Uni of York)
Julie Voce (Imperial College London)

  • disruption v renewal [two sides of same coin?]
  • key challenges: mobile tech; BYOD
  • students don't want tech to undermine contact time on campus
  • pre-MOOC: only 3% of courses offered fully online (2012)Future: students as partners in curric design (there it is again)greater use of learning analytics (see Smart Sparrow)
  • Sean Gallagher (uni of Sydney)
  • Future of learning = future of jobs (is a second machine age coming?)
  • many desk sitting jobs (screen) will disappear
  • grads need to be creative problem solvers


  • MOOC business model: worth it?
  • good for marketing
  • those who complete MOOCs tend to be higher ed grads already

  • Using Big Data to Inform Pedagogical Innovation (Big Data has become obvious from MOOC phenomenon)
  • MOOCs are personalised learning technologies


**Flipped Learning Design enables academics (researchers) to teach students the skills they already have!!!! Researchers are 'creative problem solvers'**

PANEL SESSION

What will influence learning outcomes in the next 5 years?
  • Sandra Wills: HE will increasingly have to fund itself > open and free ed?
  • Melinda Waters: changing skill needs of the workplace; industry want lit skills AND higher order skills (innovation, entrepreneurial. problem solving, global, mobility)



How will institutions change to cope with the changes?
What can we learn from other places?

If you were Minsister of Ed what would you do?
Ken Udas: free up information and content
Sean Gallagher (Uni of Sydney) : NBN!

Why bother having a degree at all? Any point?
  • Ken: can you get 'knowledge' via the Internet? (Yes IMO); are we getting confused between the diff betw ed and training?
  • Sandra: many unis have already changed and are NOT just delivering lectures; many offer applied learning as part of a qual
  • Sean: go to uni for the social experience! (in US - residential college experience)


How do we re-engage the disengaged youth?Ken: produce 'caring' people!

  • Melinda: current funding makes it difficult to be community focused
  • Where do we find these 'pracademics'?
  • Sandra: break down the silos


How to support academics through this change?
  • Sandra: it's a complex system


Is it legit to speed up quals?
  • Melinda: 'tick and flick' and 'time serving' are both issues!


FLIPPED LEARNING Mel Edwards - U of Sydney

  • groups students accordng to interest/industry; sometimes ability
  • uses Ken Robinson talks to inspire and explain to students; empowers them; talks about diff betw 'knowledgeable' and knowledge-able
  • 1600 students: a team of staff who have been trained in the same system!
  • not for all students all of the time - students complain about it being too hard ("she asks us to do too much")
  • uses Survey Monkey to track student behaviour in relation to pre-work
  • has been running this course for 3 yrs
  • Freire quote about authority and freedom!



Dror Ben Naim - Smart Sparrow can provide personal learning analytics

Steve Wheeler
  • MOOCS have been hijacked by companies and big data
  • we are heading for the meta-web (web X.0)
  • fitbit is part of the quantified self phenomenon
  • believes all content shd be open (resigned from closed journal)
  • (need to check the slides for the rest)
  • transliteracy - ability to understand, and present yourself, equally - all media


DAY 2

Andrew Vann (VC, CSU) 

  • Putting People First (not the market)
  • most Aust unis state that teaching isoce their first priority! (Adelaide and ??
  • Game: Peacemaker (Israel v Palestine)
  • we've adopted the worse characteristics of the corporate world
  • John Seddon (book) : targets are a distraction; focus on process is more beneficial
  • maintain a sense of soul
  • accept constraints and imperfections!!
  • US unis don't seem to be as obsessed by global rankings
  • CSU has a 'narrative' , not a mission statement
  • TAFEs that have become unis are teachng focused


Helen Beetham (link from UK; adviser to JISC) bit.ly/jiscdigilit
Learning in the Digital University (@helenbeetham)

  • digital capability is contextual (not always best)
  • students are divided on use of tech (my take: depends a lot on teacher)
  • has been involved designing dig lit program for JISC
  • check pyramid (similar to Laslow's hierarchy) on dig lit (with Sharpe, 2010)
  • "student learning is hybrid and pushing boundaries"
  • recruit students as mentors! get  them to produce resources in gps "feed forward learning" (some students cd be paid!!)
  • student solutions are 'better' - quicker, dirtier, need refinement, but WORK!


STREAM 1 - DIGITAL STRATEGY
Gilly Salmon (Swinburne) - The Future is Mobile

move to personalisation, authenticity

  • [note to self: use CC badge on presentations]
  • don't design for big screen anymore!!!
  • 35% of world pop have Internet; 93% mobile penetration
  • Aust: 81% Internet; 110% mobile; 57% FB
  • Swinburne study (incomplete): 81% of students disappointed on how tech was used
  • don't forget the role of assessment ----
  • Flipped Learning Design requires mobile devices
  • check apps that help develpent of UGC
  • examples: field trip video diaries "learning in the wild"!!!
  • possible resurgence of epfs with advent of multimedia channels????


MARK BROWN (National Inst for Dig Learning, Dublin)
Painting a Diff Version of the Future

The Contested Terrain
  • tech is not just a tool (agree!!)
  • tech favours  libertarians; decentralised, deregulated society - agree (ie values!)
  • Shakespeare: "The web of our life is a mingled yarn - good and ill together"
  • Books: To save Everthing Click, Against the Tide, Distrusting Ed Tech (Neil Selwyn)


The Discourse of Persuasion
  • ed is NOT in crisis - WHO says it is???
  • Einstein: "it is the theory that decides what we can observe"
  • Deschooling Discourse
  • badges, open, uncurriculum;  Mark thinks this is fundamentally flawed model
  • eg P2P Uni, OER Uni, uncollege.com
  • the flaw is...the state still plays an important role for reproduction of culture/heritage (weak defence IMO)


Who is telling the story? What is the story telling? what story isn't being told? (tick)


Saturday, March 01, 2014

Ada and Elsie: Wacko-the-Diddle-oh

The characters Ada and Elsie were stars of Australian live radio in the 1940s. 'Live radio' played to two audiences - those out in radio land and those gathered together at a live venue. In Wacko-the-Diddle-oh the live audience gets to experience what it was like to help create the atmosphere for the radio audience. And what a hoot it is. You're encouraged to cheer and stomp as these two prissy ladies deliver their saucy humour. And it seems that sponsors insisting on naming rights is not a modern phenomenon. Then, as now, they need to be kept happy - not that easy in the 40s if you were 1) female and 2) wanting to push the boundaries. And then there's the sound effects: marvel at the ingenuity of a lost trade. Really strong performances from the three person cast, and  a fascinating, instructive journey into a genre that has faded into the past.

The Trials and Tribulations of Mr Pickwick

It's 1830 in Dickensian London, so it's the language, manners, and humour of another time. And that is a large part of the appeal of this production. How often do you hear such quaint phrases as 'a token of outward satisfaction' or 'murmured a bashful acceptance'? If as a contemporary citizen you can cope with utterances of more than 140 characters (!) you'll appreciate the richness of the vocabulary used here. Nigel Nevinson delivers a deft portrayal of multiple characters that is polished and entertaining. OK - some of the jokes which may have been very funny nearly 200 years ago now seem a bit twee, but there's a charm at work here that tells an interesting moral tale, and also has something to say about the slippery nature of lawyers - not everything's changed! A wonderful way of becoming familiar with the background to a classic of English literature. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Siem Reap/Angkor Wat

Siem Reap could easily be  a terrible place but it's not. So many thousands of visitors pour through each week en route to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and surrounds that it could easily cave in to tourist tack and sell its soul, but so far its soul is intact. There are some tacky parts to Siem Reap, notably the loud and gaudy Pub Street, but for the rest it retains some integrity with a balance of fine cafes and classy guesthouses and hotels. The Siem Reap river winds its way through the town and if you follow it far enough at either end, provides easy release to the fringes of town  and the countryside beyond.
But the reason for being in Siem Reap is of course the superb World Heritage listed sites of Angkor Wat. The name Angkor Wat is used to refer to both the mother temple of the region - which is Angkor Wat, and the region that contains a series of other temples for several kilometres around - like Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. I visited 5 different temples, and they are all magnificent, but Angkor Wat itself stands alone as the highlight. About 1.5 kilometres in length it is believed to be the largest religious structure ever built. Its location in deep forest, the majesty of its design, and the endless detail of the thousands of bas-reliefs and countless carvings on walls and roofs takes your breath away, keeps you entertained, and in a constant state of wonder.
There were a lot of people there the day I visited, and I imagine that is the same every day of the year, and herein lies a potential problem. The temple itself is big enough to absorb the crowds, but not so other smaller temples. (The lovely Bayon was a nightmare.)  The Angkor Wat complex must be a vast earner of foreign currency - every foreigner pays $20 a day to enter the complex. And now Cambodia is largely at peace with itself and the word is out that it is a superb place to visit, the world will continue to visit in droves and this is going to place a lot of pressure on the infrastructure around Siem Reap, and create growing congestion around the smaller temples.
I am not going to attempt to describe the temples in any detail here. Photos do a much better job of that. As in other places in Cambodia be prepared for constant requests to take a tuk-tuk or buy stuff you don't want. And if you say no try and be gracious about it.
When you're tired of the temples, and you still have the time, take a trip to the floating village of Chong Kneas about 15 kilometres away. It's one of those things you're never going to see in the average run of daily life, and it feels like a privilege to witness the intimate life of a community on water.


Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Why TAFE as an institution matters

A few weeks ago I went to work as usual and bumped into a colleague in the foyer of a metropolitan TAFE here in Adelaide. We had a vibrant 10 minute conversation about life, education and work and then we both went on to deal with the rest of our normal work day. It was one of many occasions in the last few months where I've been aware of being part of an large organisation like TAFE, and the incidental value one accrues from simply being part of it. I am on the verge of being offered (though I may not be) a handsome sum of money to walk away in the relentless drive to reduce the cost of TAFE on the public purse. If I leave TAFE such vibrant incidental conversations with colleagues will become a thing of the past.

In an interview with Leesa Wheelahan in the Australian TAFE Teacher magazine this month she stresses the importance of TAFE as an institution, and how this is being neglected in the rush to reduce TAFE to just another competitor in the Australian Vocational and Education Training (VET) sector. When you work or study at TAFE you typically come to a large campus with impressive buildings and well-kept grounds that signify value. A student may well feel that they have come to a place of importance because obviously a lot of money has been spent on substantial infrastructure. I imagine that it is an easy jump for a student to conclude that what they have signed up to do - a course of study at TAFE - is a worthwhile pursuit because the scale of the organisation and the quality and variety of facilities on offer signal its importance.

Even on the mundane level the idea of having a canteen or cafeteria that is relatively cheap and comfortable and that caters to basic human needs conveys subliminal messages that TAFE matters, and so therefore does the course you're doing. And in the canteens and corridors of TAFE campuses you can't help but notice the diverse range of people that TAFE attracts - migrants, women, tradies, quasi-academics, etc and I'd argue that this incidental contact with a broad spectrum of society provides a valuable and vicarious experience of the pluralist society we live in.

All TAFE campuses typically have a reception area that is central and hints at an institution that is organised. You can always go to this main area if you're lost or for all manner of general enquiries. That is, there is a central area that is staffed with people who are there to support you. And over time you might get to know the staff who work in the reception area and acknowledge them as you walk past each day.

All TAFE campuses have a library. It contains resources to help you with your study, and staff whose job it is to find suitable resources and advise you how to use them. You can work on any of the many banks of computers available, and as with the canteen, you can't help that notice the diverse cross-section of people who share the library with you.. And if you're a regular visitor to your campus library staff can become members of your regular support team, or even friends. These kinds of encounters might give students the chance to develop the soft skills of communication, negotiation, and problem solving.

Though it seems TAFE in South Australia is determined to remove the Student Services part of the organisation, this arm of the organisation was another level of support beyond the classroom teacher who could offer you extra support with your studies, provide counselling on personal issues, and even help you find work.

These kinds of services - canteen, reception, library, and student support - are the services that are often associated with institutions. And they are there to not only offer support in a student's studies, but to also ensure that a TAFE student's basic needs are met, and show that the organisation cares about you as individual and will provide all the resources necessary for you to succeed. And it is these same kinds of services that are being slowly eroded in the new TAFE where the focus is only on a student coming to class and passing as quickly and cheaply as possible.

So the trappings of TAFE as an institution - a place that offers multiple levels of support and has as part of its mission a commitment to providing an enriching study environment that is not solely focused on the classroom - seem to have gone. And as Leesa Wheelahan notes, this would never be tolerated in the schools or Higher Ed sectors because those sectors produce social elites that will defend the integrity of a fully supported and enriching study environment. TAFE is not in the business of creating social elites so there are no such champions willing to defend it from becoming a place where people are pumped in and pumped out as quickly as possible, and where market forces and reduced funding are at the root of EVERY decision.

In conclusion, Leesa Wheelahan once more:

"...since the 1980's we've had the transformation of society from a society in which the market supported the broader society, to a society where the point of society is to be a market. And so the point of education is to produce people who can operate in the market, and we've had a narrowing of what education should be about because we've had a narrowing of what society should be about. And that has led to a narrowing of what TAFE should be about."