From Teaching to Doing - Project based Learning (PBL) in VET
Project Question How do you create a Fitness College using 21 st Century Learning in a VET environment that does not support this college model?
I was part of a team of innovative teachers at Parramatta Marist High School, Westmead; a school that continues to lead the way in Project Based and Problem Based Learning with results to match.
I thought to truly understand the pedagogy behind Project Based Learning why not be fully immersed in it myself. So I took on the challenge and in many ways a vision to create a Fitness Registered Training Organisation (RTO) using 21 st Century learning that uses project based learning, problem based learning and flip learning tools.
I was faced with the reality of data. RTOs delivering Fitness qualifications are at their mature stage within the VET lifecycle, as their numbers have grown astronomically within Australia. Yet, there was one major point of difference. They are all still using teacher-led classroom based models and/or Internet content management systems to advocate learning.
Over a two-year period I took notice of everyone I interacted with, whether social, professional, or family. I asked myself the right questions. Would that person fit the team? Would that person be able to lead the ship? How well will that person compliment another staff member? It may seem like a long time but selecting the right team is the most crucial component of any successful project. Whether a teacher selects the group themselves, or allows learners to choose their own group it must be carefully assessed before any work can be done.
Creating well-defined roles and responsibilities, and developing trust amongst the team who will carry out those roles was also a crucial step in the PBL process. The initial team of four staff were each moving from their own area of expertise (marketing, web development, financial operations, and fitness professional) into an educational environment that was not only different in delivery to when they were at school but new in content.
We were so proud of ourselves going into the audit process with the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). We had our folders with driving questions, templates, resources lists, assessment plans, timelines, video footage, and design floor plan for the premises. However, we did not expect the unexpected.
I could have easily created another heading; dont expect to win first go! As during the onsite audit it felt like a teacher had put a line through your written master piece and you were told to start again.
The auditor was very articulate in her explanation, developed a strong grasp of what we were striving to achieve and was even able to explain our model back to us for clarification. Where the difficulty laid before us was that it did not fit in with the audit assessment model and the standards being used within VET. Project Based Learning and its methodology was simply unheard of in VET.
At this moment and after 13 years of teaching in secondary schools I truly understood the term explicit teaching, learning and assessment. It became clear first hand that there is a great divide between high school assessment methods to that of the Vocational Training and Training sector, yet both can learn and in turn benefit from one another.
Schools need to be more explicit in the way they ask students to demonstrate ability; whether in knowledge or a skill. Teachers must clearly state everything out for the student and assume nothing. Complete the assessment task yourself with sample answers, as you will find so many unanswered questions yourself that need further clarification. Have team members validate your assessment task. Put all components of a task in sections, points, and lists to simplify a multitude of requirements that need to be demonstrated.
I will post a sample assessment task next week that has been validated and is VET compliant. I encourage you to use it as a discussion point with your professional learning team.
On the flip side, current VET competency based assessment methods do not allow for flexibility during the course of an assessment task. Competency based assessment limits a teachers ability to modify an assessment or supply additional resources to assist learners throughout a task to completion. It is focused on the end product rather than the learning process behind it.
We discovered that VET is competency led with limited ability to extend learners to solve problems as they arise. Assessment tasks explicitly state that problem-solving skills must be demonstrated, however, pre-empting a problem loses its authenticity when it seems pre-meditated.
Problems encourage the team to really ask the question; what is it that you want to achieve? The most important advice we could pass onto learners of the PBL model is to ask the following two questions:
These two questions were continually asked throughout the project. It was the teams way of being prepared. We always had a back up plan, enabling us to have the flexibility to adapt with the changes that were the lifeline for the projects survival, especially in a world where time costs money.
We were still confident and passionate in our PBL model and agile learning environment at PT National. We had four weeks to resubmit all of our teaching and learning strategies, validation team, teaching session plans and most importantly our assessment tasks for the newly released fitness training qualifications.
It is important to note that the team must face some form of pressure to see it through to completion. Project based learning does requires the team to manage stress and continue to move forward with an attitude that the project will positively affect peoples lives. Using the right language is a must amongst the team, as emotions should not and must not affect the way the team conducts itself.
The final 10% of any project is the most crucial aspect. This is when personalities arise between the perfectionist and the realist. As team leader you must recognise the dangers of the final stage of the project. It is insufficient, resource taxing, emotionally demanding and we highly encourage you to let it go. The last 10% will not affect the project but rather your self-esteem. Do not strive for closure but rather return to your original driving question or statement of what is it you wanted to achieve in the first place. In turn, this will allow you to leave room for further development and the project can be born for others to experience. As difficult as it is, leaving the final 10% in essence is intended for your target audience. They will provide you with the necessary feedback to assist you in determining whether the project needs modification or further development.
At a time when we received confirmation that PT National is officially a Registered Training Organisation we also were informed that our development application with local council needs great modification in order to be accepted. This is when celebration goes on hold and the team must keep moving. Movement is key for the success of any project. The team must seek the support of sponsors somewhere during its timeline, whether planned or responsive.
This is a crucial stage in the PBL model for teachers to encourage learners. Sponsorship may take the form of mentorship, bouncing ideas with a leading professional, asking for strategies to further motivate the team, financially investing in the project, or creating new leads for the team.
Our development application challenge became our greatest opportunity. When discussing the problem with the team we discovered that we were able to revolutionise the way agile learning spaces take place. Not only at the College but also within the flexible online learning platform. Our learners now have the opportunity to book their face-to-face tuition with their teacher when the learner is ready to do so at their discretion to assist them with the practical components of the course. We consider this our Flip Learning model for Fitness Colleges, as it brings personalised education and training to the learner, and is a model that our learners will need to understand if they wish to work as Fitness professionals.
We would not have been able to change the way Australians learn without being faced with opportunities.
Whether this is in regards to time, expenses, staffing, development of technology, availability of resources, building new platforms please account for a further 20%.
We were faced with a major challenge that required 20% of energy, focus and resources. Between the time of our onsite audit with ASQA and our final submission, the entire Fitness Industry Training package changed. For teachers reading this article this is similar to the changes that took place at BOSTES and the new English, Maths, Science syllabuses. And we had 4 weeks to do it!
It is a human survival mechanism that is in built in all of us which, as a collective allows a project to succeed no matter what the roadblock. The team supporting the project will keep working towards its completion. It is at this moment when the team-leader realises that everyone owns the project!
We discovered more than ever the importance of English within the project. To concisely outline what you want a learner to achieve without ambiguity was vital. In turn it will reduce the cost of time in clarifying to learners what should be clearly explained in the task itself.
Furthermore, when you only have a 25 character limit along with text rules within a Google Adword campaign to support the launch of your project you soon realise the need to know your product, get straight to the point and explain a million words and paint a picture within a title and two description lines.
Finally, broadcast your project to the world! Be prepared with the responsibilities associated with presenting a project to the world at large. When this is accepted Project 2.0 will commence.
Yes, I encourage you to begin every project with the end in mind but it may not always finish where you first thought. It will be even better!
Yours in 21 st Century Learning
Director of Learning