The wonderful Diana Ayling wrote up this summary of a workshop she attended a couple of years ago. However, the key points she makes remain relevant, and it would be good to hear your thoughts and experiences around how well we address the needs of our learners.
Now, to Diana's post:
Workshop participants were asked to consider the question of how well institutions and teaching staff address their learners’ needs, through the lenses of curriculum design and teaching quality. For both, the challenges were identified as well as the elements of good practice.
Much of the discussion focused on the components of good practice in curriculum and delivery, rather than on the collection of evidence to answer self-assessment questions about how well we address the needs of learners, but the indicators of good practice (and thus what to look for) were clearly identified from a wide range of perspectives.
The following aspects were identified as aspects of a learner-centred approach:
Industry input will help to ensure the content of a learning programme is relevant to the workplace. Ideally this will include input into delivery – e.g. practicum/project opportunities, the provision of teaching resources or even assistance with funding. Skills and knowledge must be vocationally and culturally appropriate and relevant.
A skills-based curriculum needs to include transferable skills for the workforce and includes both generic and specific skills. It is a constant challenge to align with industry needs both present and future. Practical versus academic balance is also an ongoing issue. The question was also raised about whether our curricula have a sufficient focus on fostering innovation: our innovation statistics are actually low.
Currency of curriculum is critical. There may be tensions (in either direction) between work practices and what is used in the classroom, workshop, studio, laboratory, etc. Change happens so quickly; how do you keep current? How do you keep your tutors current too if they have been out of industry for a while? Who funds the maintenance of currency? Is it the organisation or the individual?
Good curriculum design achieves a comfortable balance between what learners want to learn and what other stakeholders want or need them to learn. Industry and stakeholder input into design should be evident, but there is the need to ensure an appropriate balance between vocational outcomes and personal, social outcomes. There also needs to be an appropriate balance between the theory and the practical.
Good practice provision is associated with collaboration with learners, families, industry, community and other providers – it does not take place in isolation. Involve key stakeholders, especially industry at the conception stage and at every step following in the design of the curriculum. It was acknowledged that it can be hard to manage the timeliness of this.
We also need to be sure that the curriculum is owned by the staff who teach it. Often, the people involved in or teaching the curriculum don’t design it. Staff and teacher buy-in/input to the curriculum is preferable to the passive acceptance of a curriculum being developed by someone else.
It is fundamental to good curriculum design, particularly but not exclusively, at lower levels on the framework that literacy and numeracy needs are recognised and addressed.
Mātauranga Māori programmes must be academic in terms of striving for excellence, but also strongly cultural and spiritual and indigenously Māori. Should all programmes have a component of Māori language for all learners appropriate to their level of study?
Participants noted that many programmes were still accumulations of unit standards and curricula for these programmes lacked a holistic approach. Unit standards often reflected just the skills needed now, not the capabilities to succeed in a changing future.
Do we have the appropriate Rauemi (resources) that support the learner to learn? Good practice requires the careful development and accumulation of resources (physical teaching and industry support) over time. In terms of staffing levels this involves building both staff numbers and staff capabilities. This involves the development of staff over time: especially critical in practice-based teaching. Evidence of timeliness of resource provision, flexibility and responsiveness are all pointers to good practice.
Consider the time taken to teach and the time taken to learn. Ways to address this need to be built into the timelines of the curriculum. Consider change in delivery, tutor hours and the learner’s self-directed hours. How do you then incentivise learners to spend that time on self-directed study?
It was noted that teaching should be Ako-based: Tau Utuutu, interactive. There needs to be a balance between teaching and learning and an understanding of what engages students within a discipline. The pace of change in technology and keeping up with this in the context of a set curriculum is challenging. Trends to more self-directed learning with a reduction of supported learning hours mean that we often have to rethink how we structure learning within and outside the classroom.
There is an increasing demand for applied programmes that require work placements. This requires the maintenance of strong relationships with the workplace so that employers value these.
Good practice is inevitably associated with reflective practice at both the individual practitioner level and at the organisational level. Providers will provide evidence of self-assessment when reflection and review lead to improvement of practice.
Research may inform curriculum development and review. It may also be shaped by student feedback. In multi-year programmes continuous feedback in a progressive conversation with students over their years of study is an ideal to aim for. This loop needs to be completed by feedback to students about change resulting from their input and also explanations when changes are not possible. Some participants commented that the best approach to this is to have specific focus areas for discussion.
It was noted that good practice needs to be supported by good policy settings that value and build on existing success. Some participants felt that existing good practice was not always valued when governments change.
It was noted that the following had to be factored into curriculum development discussions:
The sometimes contradictory drivers between industry training organisations (ITOs) and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) were seen by some as problematic, as are also requirements to teach to unit standards and, often, uneven moderation practice around them. Where curriculum change is needed the processes are often complex even when all stakeholders agree it is necessary. The impact of NZQA’s targeted review of qualifications is, as yet, unknown, but should present opportunities to resolve some of these issues.
Workshop participants reflected on the question: what is quality teaching and how does the learner know if they have experienced it? What is the learner’s expectation of quality?
Workshop participants identified the following as key components of a learner-centred approach:
Peer review observations need to be constructive and provide actionable, supportive feedback. Supportive learning environments for tutors are important, e.g. lunchtime forums. These need to include academic processes such as moderation, mentoring.
Good practice needs to shared, role models promoted and success celebrated. Champions of good teaching need to be identified and supported within the organisation.
Surveys of student feedback need to be well constructed and validated. Student-led feedback needs to be explored further. Students referring other students to a course may be some of the strongest positive feedback of all.
Institutional support for good teaching needs to be systematic, overt and effective. It starts with effective recruitment and induction practices that fit with an organisation’s cultural values. There needs to be reciprocal commitment to professional development by both the institution and individual. Qualified and passionate teachers need to be appropriately recognised and rewarded and supported by up-to-date resources and infrastructure.
Discussions of the indicators above raised the question about what supports the quality of teaching practice. The factors identified include:
The following were identified by workshop participants as potential challenges to achieving good practice:
Note: This workshop was originally designed for teachers in higher education, however, I think the comments are relevant to teachers at all levels of education.
A workshop faciliatated at the Self- Assessment for Quality Conference 2010 Available from http://akoaotearoa.ac.nz/saq-conference
Workshop 3: How well do we address the needs of learners?; Facilitators: Deborah Elliott (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology); Nicholas Huntington (Ako Aotearoa); Bev Mitchell (New Zealand Qualifications Authority); Debra Robertson-Welsh (Manukau Institute of Technology).
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