TAFE & Adult Provision Coping with COVID at TAFE

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PAUL GODDARD teaches in the plumbing department at Gippsland TAFE, which has used the current crisis to find new – and perhaps better – ways of delivering content.

I’ve been part of the multi employer agreement (MEA) implementation group at Gippsland TAFE. I have always found the institute very good when it comes to listening and communicating with their staff.

As union rep, when the pandemic broke out and we started talking about moving to remote learning, I said there would need to be a lot of emphasis on conditions for teachers working from home, because it’s such a different situation if you have children running about in the background – or other household distractions.

As a result, very early on, Gippsland came out with a statement to all of the program managers and heads of departments saying that they understood the difficulties that would arise with teaching from home. They asked all managers to keep a close eye on employees, make sure their staff were coping and to check if there was anything additional they could do to assist.

I was keen to ensure that everyone would have a reasonable computer that they could take home with them and reasonable internet coverage. I had a little bit of difficulty myself, because I don’t have mobile phone coverage where I live. Still, the plumbing department has always been fairly forward-looking and keen to embrace new innovations. We already had a good bit of infrastructure set up to help us continue communicating with students and each other. We’ve been able to let all apprentices know what’s happening, where to go to sign in and how to get access to online learning. It’s been reasonably successful.

After years of us telling them to put their mobile phones down, we’re now actually embracing the technology that they love playing with.

We have three days during the week, where students can gather online in a group, to get work and have some online lessons. We’ve been able to send out information and resources via emails and all the students already had their own workbooks. We can nominate certain chapters in books that they need to run through or worksheets they need to complete. We’ve developed a system where they can take a photo of their completed worksheets, put their name or signature on them and then email them back to the department. We were pretty quick in making sure that we had suitable folders set up on our departmental drives, so we could store all that relevant information for audit purposes.

It’s a very different kind of delivery, with reduced contact hours. Practical assessment has been the main challenge, because that would involve bringing apprentices into the workshop. Recently, we’ve got approval to bring in a small group – as in, two or three apprentices at a time – a couple of days a week to complete some of their practical assessments, because some are getting very close to finishing the course.

Our OHS manager has worked hard to accommodate students on campus, making sure there are plenty of cleaning products available so the students can maintain good hygiene as they arrive. The sessions are only for a few hours, but enough to allow them to complete some of the necessary units of competency.

I haven’t been able to attend on-site myself as my partner is disabled and has a lot of health issues. I’ve been self-isolating at home and avoiding any contact with the outside world, but the institute has been good with communication and in bending over backwards to ensure that anything we need is available to look after our students.

Working remotely, where you can’t make out body language, it can be hard to tell if students are engaged or not. Fortunately, we’ve built up a pretty good rapport with our apprentices while they’ve been on campus, so you can tell a lot from their tone of voice.

Some have struggled to adapt, but most have taken it on board. It’s pretty commendable that young people have been able to learn in such a different way. I suppose after years of us telling them to put their mobile phones down, switch them off, get rid of them, we’re now actually embracing the technology that they love playing with.

We’ve been able to utilise some of our teachers to modify existing delivery around our Certificate IV content, which was face-to-face, to an online delivery. Digitising those resources is going to be a real asset for the future – we will have a form of delivery that can continue as an online program.

Teachers seem to be coping well with the technology. Since the crisis began, I’ve sent out a couple of emails, just ensuring that they’re all going well. I’ve hardly had one negative email back. It’s certainly been a big learning curve for us all. But the institute straight away made a number of classes available for staff to learn more about the software we’d be using.

When we come back, we’re going to have enhanced a lot of software, communication devices and different methodologies of teaching that we’ll be able to carry forward. So, it seems every crisis does have a silver lining.

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